Two Canadian cruise ship passengers who linked up with an adult film actress to smuggle “a floating warehouse” of cocaine worth £11.8 million into Australia have pleaded guilty on the eve of their trial.
The three — two young women and an older man, all Canadian — had criss-crossed the globe on a seven-week cruise aboard the liner, Sea Princess, with the cocaine stashed in suitcases in their small cabins. They boarded at Southampton before making stops in Ireland, the US, Canada, South America and New Zealand.
When the ship sailed into Sydney on August 28, 2016, the holiday came to a sudden end and they were arrrested.
Within months of their arrest, Isabelle Lagace, 29, an actress, pleaded guilty to her role in the plot, telling a court in Sydney that she had agreed to transport some of the cocaine to clear a debt of $20,000 (£11,200). She was sentenced to seven years in jail last November.
Melina Roberge, 23, sobbed for 30 minutes in a court appearance soon after her arrest in 2016, claiming that she had no knowledge of the cocaine in the cabin she shared with Lagace.
Yesterday, however, she and Andre Tamine , 64, changed their pleas to guilty.
The three Canadians had been identified as “high-risk” passengers on a “high-risk” ship, which was closely watched by authorities because it had stopped at a large number of ports, an earlier court hearing was told.
When the ship docked in Sydney police and customs officers searched the group’s two cabins, finding 35kg of cocaine in one and 60kg in the other. The drugs were wrapped in plastic bags and stuffed into suitcases.
Though it wasn’t the first attempt to smuggle drugs into Australia on a cruise ship, the authorities said that it was the largest haul intercepted.
Lagace and Roberge had appeared to be close friends and had filled their social media accounts with bikini-clad pictures from exotic locations that the cruise ship visited before arriving in Sydney.
In the sentencing hearing for Lagace, the court was told that she thought that the trip would be “an easy job for easy money”.
Lincoln Crowley, prosecuting, said that the two young Canadian women were an integral part of a “floating warehouse” of drugs, having hidden cocaine in their small shared cabin.
“The cocaine was found in a cabin occupied by Ms Roberge and Ms Lagace for 40 days — packed up, strapped up, taped up and sitting in a suitcase and would be worth a considerable amount of money,” Mr Crowley told the court. “It is in effect a floating warehouse. They are sitting on it his until they get to Australia.”
Roberge will be sentenced March 21 and Tamine on October 26. The charges carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.