On the outside, Mélina Roberge, 22, and Isabelle Lagacé, 28, appeared to be living lives most people only dream of, while snapping selfies in Morocco and on the beaches of Bermuda and getting tattoos in French Polynesia.
But Australian authorities say the Canadian women were secretly moving $22 million in cocaine aboard a globe-trekking cruise ship, leading to the biggest narcotics haul ever recovered from such a vessel, ABC News reported.
The Quebec women’s reported two-month world cruise came to a screeching halt on Sunday when the MS Sea Princess docked in Sydney and Australian Border Force officials raided their cabin with drug-sniffing dogs. Once the search was over, federal authorities announced they had recovered approximately 209 pounds of cocaine.
Both women were arrested, along with a 63-year-old man named André Tamine,The Associated Press reported.
The astonishing twist followed weeks of lavish Instagram travel photos the women posted showing them riding ATVs, bathing in turquoise oceans, sipping on drinks in coconuts, and taking in New York City’s Times Square.
“I always said I wanted to do a once in a life time trip,” one photo posted to Roberge’s Instagram account on May 19 read.
The trio went before a judge Monday and was charged with importing a commercial quantity of cocaine. They each face a maximum sentence of life behind bars, authorities said.
They were denied bail and their next court appearance is scheduled for October, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.
The trio is believed to have been working with a “very well organized syndicate,” the Herald reported, citing the Australian Border Force.
“These syndicates should be on notice that the Australian Border Force is aware of all the different ways they attempt to smuggle drugs in our country and we are working with a range of international agencies to stop them,” Australian Border Force Assistant Commissioner Clive Murray said in a statement.
Authorities have not said where the drugs are believed to have originated. Photos shared on the women’s Instagram pages show them having traveled to London, Ireland, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Chile, among other countries.
Australian Border Force commander Tim Fitzgerald credited the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Canada Border Services Agency for helping flag the trio as “high-risk passengers,” the AP reported.
The investigation remains ongoing and additional arrests could be made, the Australian Federal Police stated.