Authorities on alert for drugs across the Pacific

Jereve as she was found by divers on an atoll near Tonga
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If you are - or intend to be - on your way to Australia by sailing boat, be prepared for authorities searching for drugs. It appears that yachts, so long left largely untroubled by everyone except the quarantine authorities, are the new transport of choice for drug lords. In the past two years, four yachts - each less than 20m in length - have been intercepted carrying a combined total of more than a tonne of cocaine.

Attention was drawn to the issue when when a Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 44 bound for Australia was found marooned in the middle of the Pacific Ocean carrying more than $110 million worth of cocaine and a dead body. (See Sail-World http://www.sail-world.com/index.cfm?Nid=103860&refre=y&ntid=0&rid=1!story)

The ability to hide within the huge expanse of the ocean and difficulties co-ordinating law enforcement agencies of multiple nations have combined to make the smuggling route an attractive prospect.

'The majority are on the east coast, mainly from South American origins but the source origin of the drugs can come from anywhere,' a Customs and Border Protection spokesman said.

Because of the large ocean area to be covered, they say an emphasis on capturing intelligence is the best defence.

'About 80 per cent of customs drug seizures, including all of the four yachts intercepted since 2010, were achieved through prior intelligence that it was going to happen,' a spokesman told Australia's Herald Sun.

Nonetheless, Cook Island Police Commissioner Maara Tetava has warned drug smuggling through his nation's waters towards Australia will certainly increase in the future.

'We would possibly be seen as a soft spot, in the big picture, for international crime,' he said earlier this month.

The Australia-bound yacht found beached off Tonga had intended to travel the 15,000km across the South Pacific from Ecuador to the Australian coast.

Police are still investigating the case, although the 204kg of cocaine seized is not even close to the biggest such bust.

More than 460kg of cocaine was intercepted on Queensland's southern coast in late 2010.

Of the four Australian-bound yachts stopped since 2010, three were in Australian waters, the other in New Caledonia.