Alleged drug smugglers run aground on Aussie reef

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An alleged plot to smuggle Aus$1 billion of drugs into Australia on a yacht unravelled when a Frenchman and a Briton ran the boat aground on a remote reef off the country's west coast, police said on Thursday.

The two men -- 51-year-old Antoine Dicenta and 34-year-old Graham Palmer -- became stranded in the Abrolhos Islands off Western Australia on Monday after their 15-metre (50-foot) yacht "Zero" ran into a reef.

Police said the pair unloaded about one tonne of drugs -- believed to include ecstasy and cocaine -- from their yacht onto a smaller boat and ferried it to a nearby island where they took refuge.

Local fishermen alerted authorities to the stricken yacht, sparking a sea and air search that resulted in the alleged smugglers being discovered late Tuesday along with 40 bags filled with drugs.

Western Australian Police Commissioner Chris Dawson said the men had made a "pretty poor attempt" to cover the bags of drugs with seaweed before they were arrested.

"When those persons were under observation they tried to conceal both the drugs and themselves," he told reporters.

Dawson said that while forensic testing was ongoing to determine the exact quantity and type of drugs seized, the street value was estimated to be "in the order of Aus$1 billion" (US$680 million).

"The scale of the problem with illicit drugs that Australia is facing is not small," he added.

Australian police were now working with international agencies to determine where the drugs came from, Dawson said, but "the fact that we've got European men before our courts probably give some clue as to the origins".

The two men appeared at a local court on Thursday charged with importing a commercial quantity of drugs. They are being held in custody until their next hearing on 20 September.

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