Cocaine-laden ghost boat adrift at sea for years washes up in Marshall Islands

Marshall Islands Police Captain Eric Jorban emptying one-kilo packages of cocaine, retrieved from an abandoned boat, into an incinerator in Majuro, on Dec 15, 2020. PHOTO: AFP
There was 649kg of cocaine found hidden in a compartment beneath the deck of the boat that washed up on the Marshall Islands. PHOTO: AFP

MAJURO, MARSHALL ISLANDS (AFP) - Marshall Islands police have found the Pacific nation's largest-ever haul of cocaine in an abandoned boat that washed up on a remote atoll after drifting on the high seas, potentially for years.

Attorney-General Richard Hickson said the 5.5m fibreglass vessel was found at Ailuk atoll last week with 649kg of cocaine hidden in a compartment beneath the deck.

Mr Hickson said the vessel most likely drifted across the Pacific from Central or South America. "It could have been drifting for a year or two," he said.

Police said the drugs, which were in 1kg packages marked with the letters "KW", were incinerated on Tuesday, aside from two packs that will be given to the US Drug Enforcement Agency for analysis.

Debris from the Americas often washes up in the Marshalls after months or years at sea, driven by Pacific Ocean currents.

There have been numerous other stashes of drugs found along the Marshall Islands' shoreline over the past two decades, including another one in Ailuk, but the latest haul was by far the largest.

Law enforcement officials have various theories about the origins of such drugs, including that they were abandoned when smugglers were in danger of being caught, or lost in storms.

In January 2014, Salvadoran fisherman Jose Alvarenga washed up in the Marshalls, more than 13 months after he set off from Mexico's west coast with a companion, who died during the voyage.

After his discovery, University of Hawaii researchers conducted 16 computer simulations of drift patterns from the Mexico coast and found nearly all eventually arrived in the Marshall Islands.

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