New Zealand police said Wednesday they found more than 3 tons of cocaine floating in a remote part of the Pacific Ocean after it was dropped there by an international drug-smuggling syndicate.
While they had yet to make any arrests, police said they had dealt a “significant” financial blow to everyone from the South American producers of the drugs through to the distributors in what was the nation’s largest-ever drug seizure.
New Zealand Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said the cocaine had been dropped at a floating transit point in 81 bales before it was intercepted by a navy ship, which was deployed to the area last week. The ship then made the six-day trip back to New Zealand, where the drugs were being documented and destroyed.
Coster said the wholesale value of the 3.5 tons of cocaine was about 500 million New Zealand dollars ($316 million) and it was likely destined for Australia.
“We believe there was enough cocaine to service the Australian market for about one year, and this would be more than New Zealand would use in 30 years,” Coster said.
He said police, customs and the military found the drugs after launching Operation Hydros in December in collaboration with international partner agencies to identify and monitor the movements of suspicious vessels.
Coster said they were continuing to investigate the case with other international agencies.
“This is one of the single biggest seizures of illegal drugs by authorities in this country,” Coster said. “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.”
Bill Perry, the acting comptroller of the New Zealand Customs Service, said the haul illustrated the lengths that organized syndicates were going to in order to smuggle drugs in the South Pacific.
“We see perhaps this is just an indication that the transnational organized crime groups are testing the market in different ways, so as agencies, we need to collaborate,” Perry said.
The discovery in New Zealand follows a string of major cocaine busts at sea in recent years by U.S. authorities.
Last year, the U.S. Department of Justice charged a former professional heavyweight boxer with trafficking over 20 tons of cocaine worth more than $1 billion through U.S. ports, most of which was from what prosecutors in 2019 called “one of the largest drug seizures in United States history.”
Also in 2022, the U.S. Coast Guard said its crew onboard the Cutter James set a record for the “largest single cocaine interdiction at 10,915 pounds” while patrolling in the international waters of the Eastern Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea.
In 2021, the U.S. Coast Guard announced that it was offloading a record-shattering amount of cocaine and marijuana at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The illegal narcotics were worth more than $1.4 billion.