by Des Ryan
The sad thing for sailors about the $370 million worth of cocaine which has been intercepted on a yacht in Vanuatu is that it is bound to make the way more difficult for long range cruising sailors as they make their way from country to country. The drug traffickers thought they had found the perfect way to slip their cargo - aboard one of the fleet of little-noticed sailing boats that move like migrating birds around the world.
Raj looking peaceful
The multi-agency law enforcement operation across the South Pacific has resulted in the seizure of approximately 750 kilograms of cocaine in Vanuatu. This is likely to make checks more stringent on the hundreds of innocent cruising boats in the Pacific.
Raj on a mooring in Vanuatu
Since 2010, the Australian Federal Police (AFP), Australian Customs and Border Protection Service (ACBPS) and United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) have collaborated with South Pacific nations to investigate organised crime syndicates using yachts and similar vessels travelling through the region with cocaine shipments bound for Australia.
Project Cringle was established as a long-term AFP, ACBPS and DEA project targeting criminal organisations using the South Pacific as a transit point and staging area for their activities.
In July 2013, the AFP, ACBPS and the DEA commenced Operation Basco as a result of intelligence gathered in Project Cringle. This joint investigation targeted a yacht known as the Raj docked in Port Vila, Vanuatu.
The assistance of the Vanuatu Police Force was sought to seize and search the 'Raj'. Concealment experts from ACBPS and agents from the AFP and DEA travelled to Vanuatu on Monday to assist in the extensive examination.
Officers discovered an estimated 750 kilograms of cocaine hidden in the lower engine compartments and around the keel area of the hull.
It is estimated this consignment would be worth approximately $370 million, and has presented in excess of 750,000 individual deals from reaching Australian streets.
US Drug Enforcement Administration Senior Attache David Cali said this joint operation sent a strong message to organised crime groups seeking to operate in the South Pacific.
'This seizure is another fine example of the successes achieved when international law enforcement collaborates to rid our societies of the evils of drugs,' Attache Cali said.
'Organised crime syndicates should know that we are prepared, willing and able to combine our skills, resources and efforts to target them.'
The efforts of all agencies involved in Project Cringle, along with authorities in Tonga, the Cook Islands, Vanuatu and New Caledonia have resulted in almost two tonnes of cocaine destined for Australia being seized from five vessels since 2010.
Letter from Sail-World Correspondent:
Hi Nancy, reading your latest newsletter today I noticed a piece on the seizure of drugs in Vanuatu. The Pacific Circuit Rally fleet was in Vila at the time of the bust.
Timing however is subjective. ICA has long worked with Customs agencies around the Pacific and in two recent cases (there has been over 10 tons of drugs seized on yachts in the last five years) tip from cruisers have helped the authorities to nail the culprits.
It can be as simple as a tip about a suspicion, then step back and let the good guy’s take over. In the case of the recent bust, which is related to the last large haul on the vessel Friday Freedom, the Customs, DEA and Australian Federal Police have been working towards this for nearly two and a half years.
If all cruisers kept their eyes open and passed that information on perhaps the drug lords will find another means of transport.
As to these busts causing problems for cruisers, we haven’t noticed any increase in difficulty or a sense of suspicion but perhaps that’s because we enter and clear most countries as part of a rally.
John & Lyn Martin
Island Cruising Assoc.