Belinda Feek is a NZ Herald reporter

'Very amateur', says former cop of men behind meth haul

Dale Kirk says the operation sounds very amateur from the point of view that they couldn't launch a boat. Photo / NZ Police
Dale Kirk says the operation sounds very amateur from the point of view that they couldn't launch a boat. Photo / NZ Police

Those allegedly involved in the country's biggest methamphetamine bust are unlikely to be criminal masterminds, as they repeatedly asked for help to get their boat offshore.

Former police officer Dale Kirk, the managing director of methamphetamine education company MethCon, says it appears the trio had minimal, if any, experience in dealing with New Zealand coastlines after the police this morning announced the $448 million heist at Kaitaia.

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"From the sounds of it they were running round trying to get help from neighbours to get their boat out. It sounds very amateur from that point of view."

He says that could indicate those involved weren't familiar with the New Zealand coastline or its beaches.

"From a New Zealander's point of view, you would know how to get a boat off a beach. It's almost like somebody hasn't had any experience boating. There's not a lot of practical skill and common sense [on display here]."

Mr Kirk believes the seized drugs more than likely came from Australia or Southeast Asia.

"If it's coming from Australia it's probably come from Southeast Asia first. We're seeing big amounts coming out of Myanmar, Thailand and China."

Mr Kirk says this is the biggest, and possibly only, haul discovered on a New Zealand coastline.

"Pretty much all the importation convictions have been found at the airport or port or controlled police operations."

He also believes there's a high chance that given the size of the bust gangs would have been involved.

"I would put money on it that there's gang involvement. Almost 100 per cent of serious drug deals have a gang involvement and I'd also put money that it's gang-related from Asia."

He said there wasn't a lot police could do when drugs were imported this way, other than patrol all the country's beaches.

"Maybe it's something that will generate some ideas with policing, but realistically there's not a lot you can do. You can just go on the information that you receive and that's what's happened here. It's fantastic work by Russell [Superintendent Le Prou] and Northland police."

Mr Kirk says Customs patrol airports and ports, but not the coastline. Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries staff can search boats to check the amount of fish caught, but can't search boats for drugs.

"Anyone could, if they had the nous and ability, sail off the coast and link up with a larger boat two or three hours away in the Tasman Sea and head back to the boat ramp and nobody would be any the wiser."

Customs manager investigations, Maurice O'Brien, said Customs was involved in the ongoing investigation, and was looking at several aspects of the case.

This included vessels of interest, and how the drugs came into the country.

"There have been ongoing developments as a result of the seizure and enquiries, which we are continuing to investigate."

Criminologist Greg Newbold agrees the men sound unqualified for dealing with West Coast waters but they've also underestimated the local community who have noticed continuous suspicious activity and dobbed them in to police.

"I'm thinking that the principle organisers probably aren't locals because if they were they would know that in small communities unusual movements get noticed. If a local person was involved or if it was a bunch of local people involved I would expect them to be a bit more savvy of the dangers of operating in small communities where people see a lot and talk a lot.

"It doesn't surprise me that the guys have come from Auckland but he has probably got links with people in Kaitaia but it seems to me to be a pretty naive thing to do."

However, Mr Newbold believes shipping in drugs was not new and has been happening since the days of shipping in loads of marijuana in the 1970s.

In the 1980s, there was also the massive haul of heroine found on a yacht owned by druglord Brian Curtis after it grounded at Karamea on the West Coast. He believes drugs coming in from the coast has been happening for years and it was simply a case of the smugglers not getting caught - until now.

"In most cases it would be pretty safe and probably because they haven't been caught. It's probably been happening quite regularly but undetected. If a bunch of guys go out fishing who knows when they're going to come in. If they go out fishing at dusk, which a lot of people do, and come back in the night, which a lot of people do, who's to know if they've gone and rafted up against a passing ship or yacht and come ashore, nobody would know.

"On this occasion they've been a bit too blase and open about their activities."

Mr Newbold also believes there will be some Asian gang connection to the importation.

"There is quite likely some Asian organised-crime involved and they're notorious for not being very good seamen either. They may have got away with it a few times, too.

"All the biggest busts in recent years have involved Asians but they're mainly involved with pre-cursors."

- NZ Herald

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