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Operation Hydros: Police, Customs and NZDF recover half a billion dollars’ worth of cocaine at sea

01.56pm 08 February 2023 | News

New Zealand authorities have dealt a significant blow to an international criminal syndicate’s operation after intercepting 3.2 tonnes of cocaine afloat in the ocean.

Under Operation Hydros, New Zealand Police, working in partnership with New Zealand Customs Service and the New Zealand Defence Force, were able to recover the illicit drug in the Pacific Ocean.

Eighty-one bales of the product have since made the six-day journey back to New Zealand aboard the Royal New Zealand Navy vessel HMNZS Manawanui, where they will now be destroyed.

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster says given the large size of the shipment it will have likely been destined for the Australian market.

“There is no doubt this discovery lands a major financial blow right from the South American producers through to the distributors of this product.

“This is one of the single biggest seizures of illegal drugs by authorities in this country. While this disrupts the syndicate’s operations, we remain vigilant given the lengths we know these groups will go to circumvent coming to law enforcement’s attention.”

Police, Customs and other agencies continue to work closely with international partner agencies to ensure the security of our borders, Commissioner Coster says.

“Operation Hydros was initiated in December 2022, as part of our ongoing close working relationship with international partner agencies to identify and monitor suspicious vessels’ movements.

“I am incredibly proud of what our National Organised Crime Group has achieved in working with other New Zealand agencies, including New Zealand Customs Service and the New Zealand Defence Force. The significance of this recovery and its impact cannot be underestimated.”

The operation continues already successful work New Zealand authorities are achieving in working together and continues to lessen the impacts of transnational crime worldwide, Commissioner Coster says.

“We know the distribution of any illicit drug causes a great amount of social harm as well as negative health and financial implications for communities, especially drug users and their families.”

While no arrests have been made at this stage, enquiries will continue into the shipment including liaison with our international partners.

new Zealand Customs Service Acting Comptroller Bill Perry says this successful interception is the result of excellent collaboration with Police and the New Zealand Defence Force, as well as with international partners.

“Customs is pleased to have helped prevent such a large amount of cocaine causing harm in communities here in New Zealand, Australia and elsewhere in the wider Pacific region.

“The sheer scale of this seizure is estimated to have taken more than half a billion dollars’ worth of cocaine out of circulation.

“It is a huge illustration of what lengths organised crime will go to with their global drug trafficking operations and shows that we are not exempt from major organised criminal drug smuggling efforts in this part of the world,” Bill Perry says.

New Zealand Defence Force Joint Forces commander Rear Admiral Jim Gilmour says the Defence Force was pleased to assist Government agencies on the important mission.

“We had the right people and the right capabilities to provide the support required and it was great to work alongside the New Zealand Police and the New Zealand Customs Service,” he says. 

“We were very pleased with the result and are happy to be a part of this successful operation and proud to play our part in protecting New Zealand.”