Cocaine, meth, pills and cannabis are being smuggled through the Port of Tauranga but Customs NZ says Auckland remains the favoured importing destination despite four local busts in the last 18 months.
Customs investigations manager Bruce Berry said customs officers on risk patrol at the port use their ''intuition'', which leads to arrests.
Berry said Kiwis were willing to ''pay one of the highest prices for drugs anywhere in the world'' which made it an attractive market for South American drug cartels.
''New Zealand had become a viable drug market in its own right. We are seeing a definite increase in the volumes of cocaine, meth and ecstasy being imported.''
Tauranga and Auckland were on the radar due to South American shipping routes which called into the ports, Berry said, although Auckland was the main target.
''They will exploit any manner of transportation and a grim report a few years ago said about 90 per cent of cocaine from South America is transported by ship.''
The busts come hard on the heels of other customs joint operations with the police at the Port of Tauranga including 46kg of cocaine hidden in a rudder, more than 200kg of meth stashed away in the door frames of shipping containers and 110kg of cannabis hidden in four cylinders under the hull of a ship.
Criminal Investigations for the National Organised Crime Group district manager Detective Inspector Paul Newman said more organised crime groups were setting up in New Zealand to import and distribute drugs to wholesale networks.
''They then use International Controllers networks (people with savvy accounting knowledge) and immediately move the money offshore. Criminal groups are often compartmentalised, meaning the syndicate moving the drugs may not know of the syndicate collecting and laundering the money.
''We have had instances where people laundering the money have been flown in from offshore but usually, they are people already established in New Zealand.''
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He said the police were not only focused on drugs.
''We are going after the money and targeting the professional facilitators who are moving or hiding the assets.''
Since 2017 the National Organised Crime Group had identified and dismantled about 30 of these groups. People from at least 14 countries have been charged, he said.
A Port of Tauranga spokesperson said the port worked closely with police and customs to detect any criminal activity and regularly held joint training exercises, often involving Maritime NZ and the NZ Defence Force.
''Our operations are monitored by high-quality surveillance cameras 24 hours/seven days and we have security officers patrolling the port around the clock, including shuttle-driving crew members to and from ships.
''We're pleased that this collaborative system is working well in detecting smuggling attempts.''