It looks like Australian and Papua New Guinean authorities have somehow managed to lose 11-ish duffel bags of cocaine – worth more than $50 million – that were uncovered on a remote island in the Solomon Sea, as The Australian reports.
The bags – which in turn contained 55 smaller parcels of coke – were reportedly found buried on the island by a shark fisherman back in May, who followed a rope that led from the water to a square of disturbed sand.
As the ABC wrote back in May, the fisherman brought the bags back to his village on Budi Budi Island, which lies about 700km east of PNG’s capital, Port Moresby. But there they were intercepted by a group of tattooed men who took back at least five of the 11 bags. The ABC first reported that the villagers concealed six of the 11 bags, but The Australian are now writing that they only managed to stash one, containing about six kilos of coke, worth 1.3 million, which they then handed to police. The AFP tested the product and confirmed it was cocaine.
Cops managed to find the boat, a former prawn trawler with no ID – with a little help from Aussie aerial surveillance – after a 400 kilometre sea chase, but did not recover the drugs, only finding a small amount of coke in a cigarette packet. They arrested the seven men on board.
It’s believed that either the coke is still on that boat, or that a “change took place” between the vessel and another boat or two, to quote regional PNG chief inspector George Bayagau.
Authorities couldn’t conduct a full search of the captured boat because they feared the engine room might explode, as it had been pumped full of oil, fuel and toxic fumes.
Bayagau said: “Our men couldn’t get into the interior. There was diesel poured inside and there was grease all over and it made it very, very difficult.”
The boat was then abandoned as it was too heavy to tow, eventually running aground off the uninhabited Siassi Islands, while the cops took the seven men back to PNG’s Alatou, where they face trial this week for possession of the coke left on Budi Budi and the small amount found on the boat.
PNG believe the cocaine could still be headed our way: “The assumption is they will be heading for Australia or New Zealand,” said Bayagau.
The AFP told The Australian it would be inappropriate to comment as the issue is an “ongoing RPNGC operational matter“.