Six men have been arrested in the largest cocaine seizure in Australian history.
The Australian Federal Police (AFP) confirmed on Monday that about 1.4 tonnes of the illicit drug was found in a raid on a New Zealand ship they believe was heading to New South Wales.
Police on-board HMAS Bathurst intercepted a yacht named the Elahaka shortly before midnight on Thursday after receiving intelligence from the New Zealand Customs Service (NZCS). The vessel had allegedly travelled from New Zealand to another ship in the Pacific Ocean to collect the drugs and transport them to Australia, the AFP confirmed in a statement.
The drugs were contained in black bags on the ship and are estimated to have an approximate street value of $312 million. Further forensic testing is currently underway to determine the exact weight and make-up of the drugs.
Two crew members -- a 63-year-old New Zealand man and a 54-year-old dual Swiss/Fijian national were arrested during the raid before four Sydney men aged between 62 and 66 were arrested on Friday in relation to the drugs.
The maximum penalty for a seizure of drugs of this size is life imprisonment, according to the AFP.
AFP acting Deputy Commissioner Operations, Neil Gaughan said the raid comes as part of a long-running investigation supported by the AFP, the NZCS, the Organised Financial Crime Agency of New Zealand (OFCANZ), the Fijian Transnational Crime Unit, French Polynesian authorities and the Australian Border Force (ABF).
"Our officers based in Brisbane have been doggedly pursuing this matter since 2014. The interception of this huge volume of drugs and the charging of these six men is a testament to the officer's drive and determination," he said.
"We hope that this operation sends a strong message to anyone thinking of smuggling drugs: no matter how innovative or complex their ways are, our evolving detection methods and resources, including at sea, will keep up with them."
AUSTRALIA'S BIGGEST COCAINE SEIZURE- AFP DC Neil Gaughan: "That 1.4 tonnes seized will no longer bring misery to the Australian people"— AFP National Media (@AFPmedia) February 5, 2017
New Zealand Customs, Group Manager Intelligence, Investigations and Enforcement, Jamie Bamford said the find also comes after three years of investigation by New Zealand Customs officers into the activities of the Elakha and its crew.
"This seizure is testament to the strong partnerships and cooperation between New Zealand, Australia and Pacific nations focused on combating drug smuggling operations in the region," he said.
"Our partnerships enable us to act as one and our sophisticated intelligence capabilities and commitment prevent drugs reaching our communities."