New Zealand recovers over $400 million of cocaine floating at sea

A police photo showing the haul in a net supported on the ocean surface by floats. PHOTO: AFP
The massive seizure has a value of $418.5 million and was likely bound for Australia. PHOTO: AFP

SYDNEY - The New Zealand authorities on Wednesday said they recovered 3.2 tonnes of cocaine worth more than NZ$500 million (S$418.5 million), believed to be bound for Australia and found floating at sea.

New Zealand Police said it collected the drugs from the Pacific Ocean in a joint operation with the New Zealand Customs Service and the New Zealand Defence Force.

New Zealand Police Commissioner Andrew Coster told reporters the haul – containing 81 bales of cocaine – was “the largest find of illicit drugs by New Zealand’s agencies by some margin”.

Officials believe the drugs were dropped at a “floating transit point” in the Pacific Ocean, where they would have been picked up and taken to Australia.

A police photo showed the massive haul was bound by netting and covered in yellow floats. Some of the bales had a Batman symbol on them, and the packages of cocaine inside were labelled with what appeared to be a four-leaf clover print.

“We believe it was destined for Australia, where it would have been enough to service the market for one year,” Mr Coster said. “It is more than New Zealand would use in 30 years.”

A naval boat intercepted the bundle, which was drifting hundreds of kilometres north-west of New Zealand, thanks in part to intelligence from the Five Eyes alliance. The decades-old intelligence-sharing network comprises Australia, Britain, Canada, New Zealand and the United States.

“There is no doubt this discovery lands a major financial blow right from the South American producers through to the distributors of this product,” Mr Coster added, although officials said it was too early to say where the drugs came from.

“While this disrupts the syndicate’s operations, we remain vigilant given the lengths we know these groups will go to circumvent coming to law enforcement’s attention,” he added.

No arrests have been made yet. REUTERS, AFP

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.