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‘Bound for Australia’: NZ police snare massive cocaine haul floating in the ocean

Wellington: More than 3 tonnes of cocaine worth an estimated $NZ500 million ($453 million) have been seized in the Pacific Ocean as part of a New Zealand Police, Customs and Defence Force operation.

NZ Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said the seizure was one of the biggest hauls of illegal drugs by authorities in New Zealand history.

NZ Customs say the cocaine seized as part of Operation Hydros has a street value of more than half a billion dollars. Credit:NZ Police/Stuff

The seizure would deal a “significant blow” to an international criminal syndicate’s operation. Coster said the size of the shipment, found afloat, suggested it was likely destined for Australia.

The amount would supply New Zealand for 30 years and Australia for one year, he said without elaborating.

After the seizure, navy vessel HMNZS Manawanui made a six-day journey to transport the 81 bales of cocaine back to New Zealand.

The seizure came after the three agencies began a joint operation to “identify and monitor suspicious vessels’ movements”, dubbed Operation Hydros, in December 2022.

No arrests have been made and police were working with international partners to further their enquiries.

Massive cocaine haul was found floating in Pacific Ocean by NZ authorities.Credit:NZ Police/NZDF/Stuff

Coster said he was “incredibly proud” of the National Organised Crime Group’s efforts alongside other agencies.

“There is no doubt this discovery lands a major financial blow right from the South American producers through to the distributors of this product.

“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.”

The Five Eyes law enforcement group – made up of New Zealand, Australia, Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom – was among the international partners who assisted with Operation Hydros, Coster said.

Police National Organised Crime Unit head Greg Williams said New Zealand was not a cocaine market, and the shipment was likely on its way to Australia.

“There’s no way 3.2 tonnes is coming to New Zealand,” Williams said.

“Customs is pleased to have helped prevent such a large amount of cocaine causing harm in communities here in New Zealand, Australia and elsewhere in the wider Pacific region,” Customs acting controller Bill Perry said.

“The sheer scale of this seizure is estimated to have taken more than half a billion dollars’ worth of cocaine out of circulation.”

The massive scale of the seizure proved New Zealand was not exempt from drug smuggling efforts from major organised crime groups, he said.

Defence Force joint forces commander Rear Admiral Jim Gilmour said his force was pleased to assist in the operation.

“We were very pleased with the result and are happy to be a part of this successful operation and are proud to play our part in protecting New Zealand.”

In March last year, the seizure of 700kg of cocaine on a ship docked in Tauranga destined for another country was New Zealand’s biggest.

That cocaine haul arrived in packages in a shipping container that left South America in January 2022, and had a street value of $NZ280 million.

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