WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) - New Zealand police said Wednesday they found more than 3 tons of cocaine floating in a remote part of the Pacific Ocean after it was dropped there by an international drug-smuggling syndicate.
While they had yet to make any arrests, police said they had dealt a financial blow to everyone from the South American producers of the drugs through to the distributors in what was the nation's largest-ever drug seizure.
New Zealand Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said the cocaine had been dropped at a floating transit point in 81 bales before it was intercepted by a navy ship, which was deployed to the area last week. The ship then made the six-day trip back to New Zealand, where the drugs were being documented and destroyed.
Coster said the wholesale value of the 3.2 tonnes (3.5 tons) of cocaine was about 500 million New Zealand dollars ($316 million) and it was likely destined 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," Coster said.
He said police, customs and the military found the drugs after launching Operation Hydros in December in collaboration with international partner agencies to identify and monitor the movements of suspicious vessels.
Coster said they were continuing to investigate the case with other international agencies.
Bill Perry, the acting comptroller of the New Zealand Customs Service, said the haul illustrated the lengths that organized syndicates were going to in order to smuggle drugs in the South Pacific.
"We see perhaps this is just an indication that the transnational organized crime groups are testing the market in different ways, so as agencies, we need to collaborate," Perry said.