750kg cocaine haul would have made $370m from 750,000 deals

POLICE say the 750kg of cocaine seized from a Colombian crime syndicate in Vanuatu this week was bound for Australia and had the potential to reap $370 million from more than 750,000 individual deals.

Queensland ports were the most likely destination for the record haul, which came as part of Operation Basco - a joint operation between the Australia Federal Police, Australian Customs and Border Protection Service United States Drug Enforcement Administration.

Operation Basco targeted a yacht, known as the Raj, docked in Port Vila, Vanuatu, and was launched last month on the strength of intelligence gathered in Project Cringle - a three-year collaboration between the mutiple agencies with South Pacific nations to investigate organised crime syndicates using yachts and similar vessels travelling through the region with cocaine shipments bound for Australia.

Customs concealment experts and agents from the AFP and DEA travelled to Vanuatu on Monday to assist in the extensive examination of the Raj after Vanuatu police seized and and began searching the vessel.

Officers discovered three-quarters of a tonne of cocaine hidden in the lower engine compartments and around the keel area of the hull. The investigation was continuing and no arrests had been made.

Two tonnes of cocaine destined for Australia has been seized from five vessels since 2010 as a part of Project Cringle, which has also relied on the help of authorities in Tonga, the Cook Islands, Vanuatu and New Caledonia.

AFP Assistant Commissioner Ramzi Jabbour said the operation again demonstrated the power of joint law enforcement efforts.

"Criminal networks seeking to bring illicit drugs into Australia will continue to find it harder and harder to operate when they are up against the combined efforts of multiple law enforcement and border protection agencies across the South Pacific," Ass Comm Jabbour said.

"We are well aware that international criminals see Australia as a lucrative market for their drugs, but we will continue to work closely with our partners to identify syndicates such as these, and ensure their shipments never make it to the streets of Australia."


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