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Cartels have been dealt a ‘major financial blow’ after a cocaine shipment big enough to supply Australia for a year.
The 3.2tonne bust was found in 81 bales of cocaine floating in the Pacific Ocean and has an estimated street value of $500million.
The cocaine packaging was bizarrely wrapped with Batman and four-leaf clover logos.
It was intercepted by Operation Hydros – a joint mission between New Zealand’s police, customs and defence force – who described the haul as their largest ever find by ‘some margin’.
Australian authorities are ‘exceptionally pleased that we have taken this step,’ said Greg Williams, head of the NZ Police National Organised Crime Unit.
A cocaine shipment (pictured) big enough to supply Australia for a year has been seized
The shipment was taken to New Zealand aboard the Royal New Zealand Navy vessel HMNZS Manawanui and will be destroyed.
NZ Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said given the enormous size of the shipment it was probably meant for the Australian market.
‘A haul of that magnitude would fill the New Zealand market for 30 years,’ he said.
‘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 3.2 tonnes bust was found in 81 bales of cocaine floating in the Pacific Ocean and has an estimated street value of $500million
He said Operation Hydros started in December, 2022 as part of the NZ police’s work with international agencies to find and monitor suspicious ships’ movements.
‘I am incredibly proud of what our National Organised Crime Group has achieved in working with other New Zealand agencies, including New Zealand Customs Service and the New Zealand Defence Force.
‘The significance of this recovery and its impact cannot be underestimated,’ Commissioner Coster said.
Though no arrests have yet been made at this stage, an international investigation to find the culprits is continuing.
Mr Williams, of the NZ Police National Organised Crime Unit, said the drugs were found in international waters in a net held in place with flotation devices.
Though no arrests have yet been made at this stage, an international investigation to find the culprits is continuing. Pictured are some of the bales of cocaine seized
Mr Williams would not comment on how the authorities found out about the shipment and where it was, but said it was common for drugs to be moved in this manner.
The drugs would float in the water until they were picked up by a vessel.
He said the police had a ‘good sense’ of how international drug cartels operated.
‘That’s really critical to the work we need to do, along with Customs, and again with Defence, intercepting the flow of these drugs.’
Bill Perry, acting comptroller of the NZ Customs Service, said his agency was happy 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’.
‘The sheer scale of this seizure is estimated to have taken more than half a billion dollars’ worth of cocaine out of circulation.
The distinctive cocaine packaging (pictured) had logos of a bat and a four-leaf clover on it
‘It is a huge illustration of what lengths organised crime will go to with their global drug trafficking operations and shows that we are not exempt from major organised criminal drug smuggling efforts in this part of the world,’ he said.
New Zealand Defence Force joint forces commander Rear Admiral Jim Gilmour was also delighted with the success of the drug bust.
He said it was ‘very important’ to be aware of what is happening in and around New Zealand’s sea border.
‘If we are going to be dealing with trans-national crime, illegal fisheries or any other threat to New Zealand’s national security, maintaining that awareness of what’s going on in the maritime domain is very important and our abilities to be able to respond within it.’