Port Hedland is one of more than 60 international seaports and eight international airports around Australia where Australian Boarder Force (ABF) officers are placed to respond to suspected or reported border incidents and illegal activity.

The ABF is the operational arm of the Department of Home Affairs and maintains a watchful presence across Australia’s 37,000 kilometres of coastline, to manage the flow of people and goods to support legitimate travel and trade, while protecting the community at the border.

ABF Senior Officer Maritime Operations, Acting Supervisor Hristina Stamenkova, spoke about the important work the ABF undertakes at Port Hedland in a presentation at PHIC’s Community Industry Forum in November.

She said ABF officers based at the Port Hedland District Office patrol the port of Port Hedland with their Kimberley Coast vessel in partnership with the WA Department of Transport.

“From Balla Balla to 80 Mile (Beach), ABF manages vessel movements as well as people and goods crossing the border through all 20 berths within the port,” Acting Supervisor Stamenkova said.

“Through the Port Hedland Airport we are checking international flight arrivals and departures of travellers and goods, including freight, medivac and private flights, and in the past this included the Bali flight.”

On a weekly basis around Australia, ABF clears almost 700,000 air passengers arriving or departing from Australia and 52,500 passengers and crew arriving by sea. They also seize prohibited items, including 730 drug imports and locate 285 unlawful non-citizens.

During 2021, the Port Hedland ABF District Office processed 3,225 maritime arrivals into Port Hedland each carrying on average 20 crew.

A/g Supervisor Stamenkova said an important part of the ABF’s role was to educate industry and the community on what to look out for, and how to identify and report any suspicious activity to the ABF.

“Some common suspicious indicators relating to wharf security can include workers or crew members acting nervously or located outside their normal work environment, carrying tools that don’t fit in with their employment, or showing an unusual interest in ABF or other security processes,” she said.

“Other behaviours include workers or crew members offering to work on a rostered day off, accessing cargo without authority, or arriving or leaving a vessel or wharf at unusual hours, and unusual waterside activity such as divers or small craft moving around the wharves or berthed vessels.”

If you see or hear anything suspicious the ABF encourages you to report it by calling Border Watch (toll free) 1800 06 1800 or using the online report form at www.abf.gov.au/borderwatch

This can be done anonymously.

Caught in the act

Port of Port Hedland – 2004
A Chinese national left his vessel legitimately on shore leave but didn’t return, and was declared a ‘deserter’ and his Maritime Crew Visa was cancelled. After being located by ABF and local police, he was detained before being returned to his country of origin.

Port of Dampier – 2018
A crew member disembarked a bulk carrier wearing a bright orange life vest and carrying a backpack and small black bags. He was met in a nearby car park with two people waiting in a hire car. The two men in the hire car had been watched by the ABF and other law enforcement partners for months in a joint operation. The operation uncovered 3kg of the drug ice sewn inside the life jacket, two 10kg packages of methamphetamine in two back packs and a further 30.2kg of methamphetamine, valued at more than $8.7 million dollars was located inside the hire car.

Port of Geraldton – 2017
An incident in December resulted in 10 men being arrested for the attempted importation of a commercial quantity of a border-controlled drug. A marine vessel, which was being monitored by a joint taskforce, was intercepted as it arrived at 4am in the Port of Geraldton after 60 20kg bags of methamphetamine were transferred to the vessel from a “mother ship” off the WA coast. Fifty-nine bags were offloaded into a hire van, which was intercepted, and three men were arrested. The vessel was boarded and the extra 20kg bag of methamphetamine located, with the three crew also being arrested.

Port Hedland – 2022
Earlier this year two men were arrested after a joint operation resulted in 320kg of cocaine being seized when it was loaded into a caravan in Port Hedland. The two men had allegedly first travelled to Karratha where they hired a 6.5-metre boat then drove it to Port Hedland before launching it from a local boat ramp, and then heading about 28 kilometres out to sea. It is suspected the pair used the boat to collect the cocaine from the ocean, close to an international bulk shipping carrier. Investigations are continuing into suspicions the cargo vessel was used to import the drugs into WA waters from overseas.