Hull lot of coke: $3.15m of drug attached to ship’s stern by magnet

By and is republished with permission

A 7kg shipment of cocaine has been seized by Customs and the Royal New Zealand Navy after being found attached to the side of a ship’s hull with a magnet.

Steel box (circled) containing the cocaine attached to the ship’s stern. (Source: New Zealand Customs Service)

The joint operation in April combined Customs maritime along with the navy dive and explosives experts.

Customs were first tipped off on the incident after receiving information about a commercial vessel heading to New Zealand with a box attached to the stern which was not part of the ship’s structure.

As the vessel approached New Zealand, Customs maintained regular contact with the ship’s captain and agents, working together to monitor the attachment and report suspicious activity.

Customs, the Navy and the shipping line agreed on a plan to intercept the vessel approximately 50 nautical miles off New Zealand’s coast using Customs’ patrol vessel Hawk V.

The ship was escorted to a safe location just outside Auckland where Customs coordinated with Navy ordnance experts and divers, who used an uncrewed surface vessel and an aerial drone to monitor and inspect the box.

The box was removed and transferred to a safe location on shore where the teams were able to open it.

It was then found to contain an electromagnet, which held it to the ship, and the box was packed with 7kg of cocaine, worth up to NZ$3.15 million in New Zealand.

Inside the box showing packs of cocaine either side of an electromagnet.
Inside the box showing packs of cocaine either side of an electromagnet. (Source: New Zealand Customs Service)

Customs maritime manager, Robert Smith, said this method of attaching drugs to the hull of a ship was just one of the techniques that Customs and its partners continually looked out for.

“Customs works closely with our Navy partners and this operation was a great example of maximising each other’s capabilities and tools to reach a positive outcome. Our industry partners also play a big role in helping to keep our borders secure. We were helped by the shipping industry right at the start.

“Organised crime groups are always trying to move drugs into – and through – New Zealand, including by this type of method.

“This operation shows the value of our strong international networks with other agencies as well as global shipping lines to prevent transnational organised crime exploiting not only our population but also our supply chains,” said Smith.

Seven kilograms of cocaine seized in joint Customs-NZ Navy interception.
Seven kilograms of cocaine seized in joint Customs-NZ Navy interception. (Source: New Zealand Customs Service)

The Royal New Zealand Navy’s maritime component commander, Commodore Garin Golding, said the operation demonstrates an exciting new step in leveraging the advantages of uncrewed systems technology.

“Our control room in Devonport provided a live-tracked, common operating picture to gather intelligence utilising a combination of uncrewed platforms and our professional personnel. It meant the operation was able to be coordinated remotely and achieved the best possible outcome.

“This an excellent example of Customs, Police and the Navy work seamlessly together to combat narcotics smuggling.”

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