'Bungling sailors' led to $427 million seizure of methamphetamine, New Zealand's largest-ever haul

An undated handout photograph showing the 448 kilogramme methamphetamine haul, the largest ever in New Zealand.
An undated handout photograph showing the 448 kilogramme methamphetamine haul, the largest ever in New Zealand. PHOTO: AFP

WELLINGTON (AFP) - Some bungling boating by a group of landlubber drug smugglers led to New Zealand's largest-ever haul of methamphetamine, with their fumbling efforts arousing the suspicion of locals, the police said on Tuesday (June 14).

The 448kg haul, with a street value of US$315 million (S$427 million), is the largest ever in New Zealand, eclipsing in a single swoop the entire amount of ice seized in the South Pacific nation last year (334kg).

Police said locals found an abandoned boat at remote 90 Mile Beach on Sunday and also reported a group of men had been acting suspiciously in the area in recent weeks. They said the men, whose nationalities were not given, had been unsuccessfully trying to launch boats off the beach, then offering locals large amounts of cash to help them.

When the police went to recover the boat, one of the vehicles used by the group drove past and was stopped after a brief chase. Two men, aged 26 and 31, were arrested.

A short time later, a campervan driven by a third man, aged 19, was stopped and a search found multiple suitcases containing zip-lock bags full of drugs.

"What is so great about this is that it's not only the result of hard work by the Northland police, but it's the result of information we got from the community," Superintendent Russell Le Prou said in a statement.

"We received notification of several cases of suspicious behaviour in the past few weeks, and that has allowed us to get to this point."

Police said they were working with customs to determine where the methamphetamine came from. Many of the bags showed signs of salt water.

The three men where scheduled to appear in court on Tuesday charged with importing and possessing class A drugs for supply.