Australian police seize more than a ton of cocaine in record-breaking bust

Australia police ended a two-and-a-half year drug investigation on Christmas day by busting a cartel and seizing 1102 pounds (500 kilograms) of cocaine.

The December 25 bust, along with a seizure of 1336 pounds (606 kilograms) of cocaine from the same syndicate earlier this year, was worth about $259 million (AUD$360 million) and is Australia's largest ever haul from a single cartel.

Police said it was among their ten largest seizures ever.

The investigation, codenamed Operation Okesi, was a joint effort between Australian Federal Police, New South Wales Police and Australia's Border Force.

Speaking beside a table piled high with heavy bricks of drugs, NSW Police Force State Crime Commander Mark Jenkins commended Australia's law enforcement and border protection agencies for working on bust, even at the cost of missing Christmas with their families.

"This job began with a thread of information to the NSW Police Force's Drug Squad two-and-a-half years ago," Jenkins said.

"What has followed and the results achieved are a powerful example of the impact example of the impact made by the hard work and cooperation of (Australian police)."


Fishing boats investigated

Police told CNN the cartel was local, but with international connections. It is believed to have been smuggling drugs into Australia via Sydney, on commercial fishing boats.

Police dealt the cartel its first bloody nose when they seized 1336 pounds (606 kilograms) of cocaine in Tahiti in March 2016. The drugs were en route to Australia.

Earlier this month police followed a large commercial fishing boat out out of Sydney Fish Markets, to the New South Wales south coast. On Christmas night, a one-man boat was launched from the larger vessel and landed at Parsley Bay in Brooklyn, NSW.

Investigators closed in, capturing 1102 pounds (500 kilograms) and arresting seven men. Over the next four days, police rounded up eight more men across NSW, Queensland and Tasmania.

All fifteen men were locals aged between 29 and 63 years old, and had allegedly been posing as fishermen as a cover for their drug running.


Cocaine 'easy' to obtain

Australia has one of the highest uses of cocaine, by percentage of population, in the world, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

About 2.1% of the population, or around 460,000 Australians, are estimated to have used the illegal drug in the past year, a national survey found.

Over the course of their lifetimes, more than 1.5 million Australians say they've tried the drug.

However, seizures of cocaine by police have also risen dramatically in recent years.

According to the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, between July 2014 and June 2015 there was 3,236 cocaine seizures countrywide, the most since at least 2005.

Still, despite police efforts, in a 2014 study of regular injecting drug users, 72 per cent said cocaine was easy to obtain, more than the previous year.