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Customs seizes 35-kilograms of cocaine in Tauranga

04.08pm 14 November 2023

Customs has intercepted approximately 35 kilograms of cocaine in a smuggling attempt through the Port of Tauranga, during its routine inspection operation of high-risk vessels and shipments.

Customs officers uncovered the cocaine hidden in the engine compartment of a refrigerated shipping container loaded with bananas, which arrived from Panama on Thursday evening (9 November 2023).

Customs Group Manager Maritime, Paul Campbell, says this result comes from well targeted and regular verification checks on shipments at our border, which are supported by good intelligence from Customs’ overseas representatives in cooperation with international partner agencies

“Customs is extremely proud of the work both frontline officers and our support teams do every day to intercept the smuggling efforts of transnational organised crime groups who aim to exploit our communities and profit from the harm they inflict through their trafficking.”

It is estimated this latest seizure could have produced approximately 350,000 individual doses worth a total estimated street value of up to $15.7 million. Based on the National Drug Harm Index, this seizure has prevented around $10.5 million of harm in New Zealand communities.

This seizure comes two weeks after 140 kilograms of cocaine was seized from a shipping container at the Port of Auckland. That joint Customs and Police investigation uncovered a sophisticated organised crime smuggling operation and led to four arrests.

“There is an economic cost with this criminal behaviour that includes disruption to legitimate activity on New Zealand’s ports.

“While Customs risk assesses all incoming shipments and vessels, the time involved for physical searches is significant. Like the Customs’ operation in Auckland recently, where 140 kilograms of cocaine was seized, clearance of other legitimate shipments becomes inevitably slower while we undertake inspections for suspect containers.

“This is time-consuming work but Customs, and port operators understand it has to happen to stop the criminal activity that threatens New Zealand’s supply chain.”

Port of Tauranga Chief Executive, Leonard Sampson, said the Port was keen to support Customs’ operations in any way possible, even at the risk of causing delays to legitimate cargo.

“Port of Tauranga and our customers understand the value of the work done by Customs and New Zealand Police to protect our communities from harm. Our security and operations teams are highly focused on safety and preventing any illegal activity at our port.”

Anyone who has concerns about possible smuggling behaviour can contact Customs confidentially on 0800 WE PROTECT (0800 937 768) or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.