More than 3 tons of cocaine floating in the ocean have been seized by authorities in New Zealand in one of the country’s single biggest drugs busts.
Some 81 bales of cocaine weighing 3.2 metric tons (3.5 short tons) were intercepted in the Pacific Ocean as part of Operation Hydros – a joint initiative between New Zealand’s police, customs and defense force.
Those behind the policing operation valued the haul at more than half a billion New Zealand dollars (about $318 million).
Few details have been made public about how or when the discovery was made, but police on Wednesday published a news release about the haul, including several images. Among them is a shot of the mass of packages, buoyed by numerous floatation devices.
A Batman logo is plastered across one of the packages shown, while others are seen labeled with a black four-leaf clover.
An international crime syndicate is believed to be responsible for the cache, which the police think was headed 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,” police commissioner Andrew Coster said, reports CNN affiliate 9News.
A navy vessel took six days to ship the drugs back to New Zealand, where they will now be destroyed, police said.
Coster said in the news release: “There is no doubt this discovery lands a major financial blow right from the South American producers through to the distributors of this product.
“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.”
Operation Hydros, which began in December, monitors “suspicious” vessel movements and includes working with international partner agencies, Coster said.
He added: “The significance of this recovery and its impact cannot be underestimated.”
No arrests have been made but an international investigation is ongoing.
Bill Perry, New Zealand Customs Service acting controller, added: “It is a huge illustration of what lengths organized crime will go to with their global drug trafficking operations and shows that we are not exempt from major organized criminal drug smuggling efforts in this part of the world.”