A $1 million stash of cocaine found by chance in a shipping container in Christchurch was likely intended for European consumption, police say.

Police revealed yesterday that the three packages of the Class A drug - each weighing 1kg - were worth about $1.05 million on New Zealand streets.

But they believe the container was intended for the Dutch city of Rotterdam, and had been shipped around the world for up to a year before landing at Lyttelton and being sent for repair.

The cocaine was found at the Lyttelton Port Company's Woolston depot on February 10.


Police and Customs officers were alerted after one of the packages containing white powder fell from a refrigeration unit inside an empty shipping container that was being repaired.

Two similar packages were also discovered hidden in refrigeration ducts accessible only from inside the container.

Detective Inspector Virginia Le Bas said tests confirmed the powder was cocaine and inquiries revealed the container in which it was found had been routed from South America to Europe.

The container's manifest indicated it had spent up to a year in transit around the world before landing in Lyttelton.

"We believe that the original destination was Rotterdam," she said. "Indications are that the packages had been in the container for some time."

Ms Le Bas said it was "not unusual" for illicit drug shipments to be lost.

Drug traffickers were sending out "kilograms and kilograms" of cocaine around the world and had to know where they would be retrieved.

"It's a bit hit and miss and sometimes things must get lost," she said.


Cocaine was worth about $350 a gram in New Zealand.

Police were sure the shipment was not intended for the New Zealand market.

"Cases such as these are not unusual, with law enforcement agencies around the world encountering similar situations to this," Ms Le Bas said.

Police said earlier that cocaine seizures were relatively uncommon in Canterbury.

Police and Customs had concluded their investigations.