$330 million-worth of cocaine found on luxury yacht in South Pacific

The yacht Raj at anchor in Port Vila, Vanuatu. Packages of cocaine worth $330 million were found on the yacht and seized on Monday. Australian Federal Police via AP

Cocaine worth an estimated $330 million has been seized from a luxury yacht on the South Pacific island of Vanuatu in a joint operation involving Australia and the United States, officials said Friday.

More than 1,600 pounds of the drug was discovered concealed in engine compartments and the keel area of the vessel, called “Raj,” according to a statement issued jointly by Australian police and customs and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

They have been collaborating with South Pacific nations since 2010 “to investigate organized crime syndicates using yachts and similar vessels travelling through the region with cocaine shipments bound for Australia,” the statement said.

It said in July 2013 they received intelligence that led them to begin “Operation Basco,” targeting the Raj.

DEA Senior Attache David Cali said the seizure of the drugs on Monday sent a strong message to organized crime gangs.

An officer gathers packages of cocaine found on the yacht. Australian Federal Police via AP

“This seizure is another fine example of the successes achieved when international law enforcement collaborates to rid our societies of the evils of drugs,” Cali said in the statement. “Organized crime syndicates should know that we are prepared, willing and able to combine our skills, resources and efforts to target them.”

Experts were drafted in from Australia and the U.S. to help find the drugs.

Karen Harfield, Australian customs’ national director of compliance and enforcement, said: “It doesn’t matter how sophisticated the concealment – and these drugs were particularly well-hidden – law enforcement authorities have access to the intelligence, tools and expertise to find and seize them.”

She told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that the drugs were hidden in compartments sealed with concrete and rocks.

“Officers from all of the agencies spent some number of hours chiselling through the concrete and ultimately the rocks to reach the concealed drugs,” Harfield said.

No arrests were made in the case, the TV station said.