On a remote island, somewhere off the coast of Papua New Guinea, there’s a shipwreck full of cocaine. The vessel was abandoned by drug-smuggling pirates before it drifted out to sea and ran aground near the Siassi Islands: an uninhabited volcanic islet in the Vitiaz Strait. And authorities suspect that more than $50 million worth of coke could still be sitting in the hull.
It was a shark fisherman who first found the stash, on a tiny atoll in the Solomon Sea, after noticing a piece of rope that ran up out of the water and onto the beach. The man followed the cord until he reached a small stick poking out of the ground. And then he started digging.
Buried in the sand were 11 duffel bags full of packaged cocaine, believed to be destined for Australian shores. The fisherman took the multimillion-dollar haul back to his village on nearby Budi Budi Island, some 700 kilometres east of Port Moresby. And within days, a boatload of heavily-tattooed Asian gangsters arrived in the village to reclaim their drugs, as reported by The Australian.
What followed was a 400 kilometer sea chase between the modified trawler and the Papa New Guinean navy. With the aid of Australian air surveillance, PNG police eventually intercepted the vessel and arrested the suspected smugglers: six men from Hong Kong and one man from Montenegro. When officers attempted to conduct a full search of the vessel, however, they discovered it’d been booby-trapped with oil and fuel pumped throughout the engine room.
“Our men couldn’t get into the interior,” said regional PNG chief inspector George Bayagau. “There was diesel poured inside and there was grease all over and it made it very, very difficult.”
With the boat proving too heavy to tow, police were forced to abandon the search while they transported the traffickers to the nearby city of Alatou. Those men are set to face trial on drug charges next week. But the coke boat remains at large.
“All efforts were made to salvage the boat, but it was impossible,” said Mr Bayagau.
All that officers managed to acquire was a small amount of coke located inside a cigarette packet on the trawler. The residents of Budi Budi also held on to one packet from the stash, which contained 6 kilos of cocaine, priced at more than $1.3 million. They eventually handed it over to police.
Authorities suspect that the remaining 55 packets, meanwhile, are still onboard the boat.
The Pacific has become a hot spot for organised crime in recent years. The remoteness of the islands combined with a lack of resources for policing and border control has created an idyllic passage through which cartels can smuggle drugs, weapons, and people to places like Australia and New Zealand.
Those same factors are likely the reason why the boat full of cocaine hasn’t been properly retrieved by authorities. And that means there’s a good chance it’s still sitting out there, lost and marooned on a tropical shore.
Waiting to be found.
This article originally appeared on VICE AU.