Suspicious packages sent to several diplomatic missions in Australia

Hazmat and fire crew working outside the Indian and French consulates on St Kilda Road in Melbourne, Australia, on Jan 9, 2019.
Hazmat and fire crew working outside the Indian and French consulates on St Kilda Road in Melbourne, Australia, on Jan 9, 2019.PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Paramedics are seen outside the South Korean consulate in Melbourne, Australia, on Jan 9, 2019.
Paramedics are seen outside the South Korean consulate in Melbourne, Australia, on Jan 9, 2019.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

MELBOURNE (REUTERS, AFP) - Police in Australia said on Wednesday (Jan 9) that they are investigating several suspicious packages sent to embassies and consulates, which media reports and other officials said included the United States and British missions, in the cities of Melbourne and Canberra, but there were no reports of harm to staff.

Domestic media reported that more than a dozen foreign offices received the packages and some staff said they contained asbestos, a material used in building that can cause cancers and other health problems.

There were no details of any possible motive and some of the targeted sites that Reuters reporters visited were open later on Wednesday afternoon.

“The packages are being examined by attending emergency services,” the Australian Federal Police (AFP) said in a short statement.

It said the packages were sent to consulates in Melbourne and embassies in Canberra, but did not provide a total number of affected sites or identify any of them.

“The circumstances surrounding the incidents are being investigated,” the AFP statement said.

Officials at the US and British consulates in Melbourne separately confirmed suspicious packages had been received.

“We handled the package according to our standard procedures and in close coordination with local authorities... who are investigating the incident,” a spokesman for the US Consulate said.

A New Zealand official told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation the consulate received an envelope with small plastic bags that appeared to contain concrete and asbestos, with “asbestos” written on one of the bags.

The Age newspaper reported that one firefighter was seen outside the South Korean consulate carrying a large plastic bag with the word “asbestos” written on it.

Other consulates in Melbourne reported by media to have received suspicious packages included those representing Greece, Italy, Spain, Thailand, India, Japan, Pakistan, Egypt, Denmark and Switzerland. Reuters could not confirm the reports

Vic Emergency, a government response agency, reported several instances of hazardous materials being found across the city on Wednesday, including near the Spanish, Japanese, Egyptian, Indian and Pakistani consulates.