Christina Ongley. Photo: Max Fleet/NewsMail
Christina Ongley. Photo: Max Fleet/NewsMail Max Fleet

Busted with $185m in drugs

WHEN federal and local police swooped on four suspected drug smugglers in Bundaberg in what was one of the country's biggest cocaine busts in history, the NewsMail was there to bring you the dramatic story.

On a quiet Saturday in November 2011, weekend reporter Lea Emery got wind of police action at Burnett Heads and alerted then editor Christina Ongley, who called a good contact for more information.

"That contact happened to be moving the boat on which the drugs were found at the Bundaberg Port, right at that very moment," Ms Ongley said.

"The boat, the Friday Freedom, needed to be docked so police could search it thoroughly. And then we knew to get photographer Max Fleet down there right away."

By complete chance, fellow photographer Mike Knott had also snapped police cars at the turtle roundabout the previous night, without realising that was part of the same investigation.

It transpired the police had carried out simultaneous raids on the boat and on the cars of two men, who had driven up from Sydney and the Gold Coast respectively, to pick up and cart away the drugs.

Then the shocking facts started to emerge as the police investigation took shape - almost 300kg of the drug seized, an estimated street value of $185 million, four Spanish nationals accused and the Port 2 Port yacht rally from Vanuatu to Bundaberg used as the cover for the brazen importation.

NewsMail court reporter Vanessa Marsh then took up the story, as the three men and one woman - Jose Herrero-Calvo, 38, Ivan Maria Ramos-Valea, 35, Miguel Angel Sanchez Barrocal, 39, and Julia Maria Boada Fernandez, 37 - were charged and faced repeated court hearings.

We followed the court case through to its eventual conclusion in November 2013, when the men received their hefty sentences: life in jail for Ramos-Valea, who had captained the boat; 18 years for Herrero-Calvo and 17 years for Barrocal.

And Ms Marsh's hard work paid off when she was granted an exclusive interview with Julia Fernandez, who had spent two years in custody before finally being acquitted. She had never known the drugs were on the boat.

The NewsMail is there to cover all the breaking news and issues relevant to our community. Follow our We Were There series of video slideshows online and look back on some of the stories that have helped shape us.

WATCH THE VIDEO ONLINE

To see our video slideshow of our coverage of the Friday Freedom cocaine bust, scan this QR code with your smartphone.

Don't forget to watch the other videos on our 12-part We Were There Series.



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