Photo: New Zealand police.
Police seized 3.5 metric tons of cocaine floating in the Pacific Ocean worth hundreds of millions of dollars in what officials are calling the biggest drug bust in New Zealand’s history.The 81 packets deliberately tied to a series of nets and buoys about six days sail from New Zealand were found floating at what police believe to be a transit point where they were meant to be picked up by a smuggling gang and taken onwards to Australia.
The stash, branded with Batman and black four-leaf clover logos, represents a year's cocaine consumption for Australia and three decades worth for New Zealand, police told reporters. Police said that a South American-linked drug cartel had been under surveillance during a mission dubbed Operation Hydros since December 2022, eventually leading to the seizure of the floating drugstore, which smugglers appear to have intended to pick up by a passing ship to avoid customs officials.“There is no doubt this discovery lands a major financial blow, right from the South American producers through to the distributors of this product,” said Police Commissioner Andrew Coster in a statement. “This is one of the single biggest seizures of illegal drugs by authorities in this country. 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.”
Police officials told reporters the drug cache would have been tracked by smugglers by GPS.Senior Detective Greg Williams said: “There’s multiple ways in which organised crime will want to get its product in our country. And this is just one of those ways.”
Officials were shocked by the huge size of the shipment as both New Zealand and Australia are extremely difficult markets for smugglers to enter because of the transport distances involved.Australia and New Zealand have the highest cocaine prices in the world. Retailing for as much as $350 per gram despite the lowest purity of a major market, make Australia the most sought after market by drug cartels due to much higher profits. Despite the low quality and high price, Australians are considered one of the biggest per capita consumers in the world.
The vast distances involved with the Pacific Ocean and incredibly high profit margins in both countries often forces major traffickers to attempt long distance smuggling trips on both private vessels and via container cargo ships. In a 2012 incident, a sailboat allegedly belonging to international criminal mastermind Paul Le Roux holding 204 kg of cocaine and the dead body of its captain was found off the coast of Tahiti.