updated 10/14/2010 5:25:22 AM ET 2010-10-14T09:25:22

A tip-off from U.S. authorities led to the seizure of more than 1,000 pounds of cocaine transported to Australia from South America, police said Thursday.

The third-largest cocaine seizure in Australian history could have earned more than $159 million on the street, Australian Federal Police Deputy Commissioner Andrew Colvin told reporters.

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Colvin said the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration tipped off police last week that a catamaran carrying cocaine was headed for Australia from South America. After two days of helicopter surveillance, a catamaran and another vessel were spotted Friday nearly 500 miles  off the eastern coast.

They were trailed until the yacht docked at Brisbane's Scarborough Marina.

Colvin said the cocaine had apparently been offloaded from the catamaran to the yacht.

The drugs were seized Tuesday and three Australian men were arrested. Two were charged with attempted importation of cocaine and the other with possession.

'A great blow'
The catamaran was intercepted at sea by an Australian Customs and Border Protection boat on Wednesday and is being towed to Brisbane, Colvin said. He said two people on board — believed to be from Costa Rica and Germany — have been detained.

Home Affairs and Justice Minister Brendan O'Connor said the operation had also yielded 12 search warrants in two Australian states and uncovered a drug lab in Eden, New South Wales.

"If we want to dismantle organized crime we must attack the money flow, we must attack their income source," O'Connor told reporters. "This is a great blow landed today, landed this week, by our law enforcement agencies."

Police are still investigating where the drugs came from and from which South American port the catamaran departed.

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