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Cocaine haul highlights region’s drug role

Police and customs officials in French Polynesia have seized 423 kilograms of cocaine hidden in a Swedish yacht. Police have also detained two Swedish nationals for questioning although no charges have been laid.

French Polynesia’s public prosecutor Herve Leroy said in a statement that a search of the intercepted vessel in the port of Papeete found 379 packs of cocaine concealed in the stern of the yacht.

He said the boat had sailed from Panama and was bound for Australia. He said this was the seventh yacht with large quantities of cocaine intercepted in French Polynesia since 2016.

In 2019, French Polynesian authorities caught a yacht with 436 kilograms of cocaine. Three Italians and a Peruvian national were detained and the yacht had sailed out of Panama.

There have been seven yachts caught in the last years. Picture MD Sail Services Facebook
Police and customs officials in French Polynesia have seized 423 kilograms of cocaine hidden in a Swedish yacht. Picture: MD Sail Services Facebook

In 2017, two sailboats were intercepted by the French army in French Polynesia after a tip by the French secret services. Cocaine weighing 1,438 kilograms was found in the operation and four suspects were arrested and transported to mainland France.

The first boat was captured by the military frigate “Le Prairial” in international waters north of the Marquesas Islands and it transported 639 kilograms of cocaine.

The second catamaran was picked up two days later by customs officers at the marina of Arue, in the island of Tahiti, where it was waiting for repairs of one of its motors. The two boats were used to transport the cocaine from South America, presumably to Australia.

In 2018, a joint operation by Fiji Revenue and Customs Service, Fiji Police, Biosecurity Authority of Fiji and Health Department led to the seizure of 13 bars of cocaine weighing 15kg and ecstasy tablets with an estimated value of US$10–15 million. The yacht came from Bora Bora, French Polynesia.

French Polynesia is patrolled by French navy. Picture ItiharMainos Vong Facebook
Police and customs officials in French Polynesia have seized 423 kilograms of cocaine hidden in a Swedish yacht. Picture: ItiharMainos Vong Facebook

Jose Sousa-Santos, the Pacific Policy Fellow at the Australia Pacific Security College wrote in a report that the Pacific Islands have become a production site and trafficking destination as well as trafficking thoroughfare, and indigenous / local crime syndicates now work in partnership with transnational crime syndicates.

He stated that the criminal deportee policies of Australia, the United States, and New Zealand are contributing to the problem by exacerbating the vulnerabilities on which transnational organisations and local crime actors capitalise.

“The Pacific and its partners have responded by strengthening regional policing architecture and governance through enhanced law enforcement mechanisms, but challenges remain as the illicit drug trade adapts and takes root in the region,” he said.

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