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[SYDNEY] 14 suspected members of an international drug ring were charged in Australia Friday over a AUD200 million (S$199 million) seizure of the drug ice, police said.
The 14 include eight Chinese crew from a commercial fishing boat along with six Malaysians.
Border forces detected the boat off Australia's west coast on April 27, but when it was boarded at sea several days later no drugs were found.
Police said their inquiries led instead to two properties in the Western Australia state capital Perth with 150 kilograms (330 pounds) of crystal methylamphetamine, or ice, found in one and 50 kilograms in the other.
"It will be alleged in court that the people charged today were part of an organised criminal syndicate that facilitated the transport of the drugs from the fishing boat to Western Australia via small watercraft," police said.
The Australian Federal Police said that six Malaysian nationals aged from 24 to 54 and eight Chinese aged between 37 and 56 had been charged with commercial drug importation, offences that carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
Police called it the biggest seizure of methylamphetamine in Western Australia this year, adding that they would allege in court they had disrupted and dismantled a significant organised crime network.
Australian Federal Police acting Assistant Commissioner David Stewart praised the cooperation between law enforcement agencies in targeting drug trafficking by increasingly complex criminal syndicates.
"The globalisation of crime has become so complex that the law enforcement response requires a high degree of sophistication and collaboration in order to combat transnational crime networks," he said.
The eight crew, who were taken into custody when the ship was intercepted, were held in immigration detention until being charged on Friday.
Police said the boat was tracked after it was spotted off the coast, and escorted to Geraldton, some 400 kilometres (250 miles) north of Perth.
Australia has launched a AUD300 million strategy to combat the growing use of ice after a government report revealed the country has proportionally more users than most nations.
It showed that the use of the drug had doubled since 2007 to more than 200,000 people in 2013, with anecdotal evidence that numbers have grown since then.
An Australian Crime Commission report last year found that while US$80 bought one gram of ice in China, users in Australia had to pay US$500.