$330 million in cocaine seized on yacht in Vanuatu


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CANBERRA, Australia (AP) - The white yacht seized in Vanuatu had a secret under its worn parquet floor: brick after brick of South American cocaine.

The find U.S. and Australian officials announced Friday was part of a collaboration with South Pacific governments to investigate smugglers' use of yachts to move drugs across the ocean to Australia.

The 750 kilograms (1,650 pounds) of cocaine were found Monday in the capital, Port Vila, with the assistance of Vanuatu police, Australian Customs and Border Protection Service said in a statement.

Agents chiseled into the boat interior to expose the drugs in the yacht's engine compartment. Video authorities released of the seizure showed dozens of bricks wrapped in dirty black plastic.

They estimated the drugs were worth 370 million Australian dollars ($330 million).

No arrests have yet been made. U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Senior Attache David Cali said the investigation was ongoing, and he praised the joint operation in a statement.

"Organized crime syndicates should know that we are prepared, willing and able to combine our skills, resources and efforts to target them," he said.

Australia has become an increasingly lucrative market for international drug syndicates because the relative strength of its currency and economy.

U.S.-Australian cooperation with authorities in Vanuatu, Tonga, the Cook Islands, and New Caledonia have resulted in almost 2 tons of cocaine destined for Australia being seized from five vessels since 2010.


(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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