Customs and the Navy stop an international cocaine smuggling attempt
2 mins read

Customs and the Navy stop an international cocaine smuggling attempt

The joint operation in April involved Maritime Customs and Royal New Zealand Navy diving and explosives experts after Customs received information that a merchant vessel bound for New Zealand had a box attached to its stern that was not was part of the ship’s structure.

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

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

The ship was escorted to a safe location on the outskirts of Auckland, where Customs worked with Navy weapons experts and divers who used an uncrewed surface ship and an aerial drone to monitor and inspect the box.

The box was removed and moved to a safe location on land where teams could open it.

The box was found to contain an electromagnet that attached it to the ship and seven kilograms of cocaine worth up to NZ$3.15 million.

Maritime Customs Manager Robert Smith says this method of attaching drugs to a ship’s hull is just one of the techniques that Customs authorities and their partners are constantly looking at.

“The joint operation used a range of technology, including remotely controlled equipment, to gather information about the attached box to ensure safe removal and investigate what led to the seizure of cocaine.

“Customs works closely with our naval partners and this operation was a great example of each other maximizing their capabilities and tools to achieve a positive outcome. Our industry partners also play a big role in keeping our borders secure. The shipping industry helped us from the very beginning.

“Organized crime groups are always trying to smuggle drugs into and through New Zealand, including using these types of methods. This operation demonstrates the value of our strong international networks with other agencies, as well as global shipping lines, to prevent international organized crime from exploiting not only our population, but also our supply chains,” Smith says.

Royal New Zealand Navy Naval Component Commander, Commander Garin Golding, says the operation represents an exciting new step in harnessing the benefits of uncrewed systems technology.

“Our control room in Devonport provided a shared operational picture, tracked live, to gather intelligence using a combination of uncrewed platforms and our professional staff. This meant that the operation could be coordinated remotely and achieve the best possible result.

“This is an excellent example of seamless cooperation between Customs, Police and Navy to combat drug smuggling,” says Commodore Golding.