Dead body, 200 kg of cocaine found on Tonga yacht
11/16/2012 6:32:45 AM
A yacht that washed up on a deserted tropical island in the South Pacific with a badly decomposed body onboard was carrying more than 200 kilograms of cocaine worth up to $120 million, police said on Friday.
Australian Federal Police said international law agencies had been monitoring the 13-metre (42-foot) yacht "JeReVe" from when it left South America until they lost contact with it last month.
Two divers came across the boat earlier this month off Tonga's Vava'u island group and made the grim discovery of the dead Caucasian male when they went aboard. They then reported their find to police.
"Also located on board that vessel were 204, one-kilo (2.2-pound) blocks of cocaine destined for the Australian market," acting national manager for serious and organised crime David Sharpe told a press conference.
The massive seizure, with an estimated Australian street value of up to Aus$116 million, was now part of an ongoing operation involving police in Tonga, the Cook Islands, Australia and the US Drug Enforcement Administration.
Tonga's coroner was conducting an inquiry regarding the dead man.
The yacht, which Tongan authorities were unable to search initially because of difficult tidal conditions and its remote location, was eventually found to be carrying the drugs in its hull.
Australian police and customs were alerted that a vessel was en route from Ecuador to Australia in August and an investigation began.
They formed a special group with US authorities to examine vulnerabilities in the South Pacific being exploited by international organised crime syndicates.
When information suggested the yacht was in waters near the Cook Islands, police there were also brought into the investigation.
"Vessels transiting through the Pacific into Australia have been identified as a high-risk area of drug smuggling," Sharpe said.
In late 2010, Australian Federal Police said they had arrested four men in Sydney over a plot to smuggle almost 700 kilograms of cocaine into the country via Tonga.