Greedy cocaine smugglers have unleashed a fleet of so-called "blow boats" towards Australia from the Pacific islands.
Federal police have revealed the 3.3 tonnes amount of drugs seized from private yachts since December last year, as use of the drug soars in Australia.
The seizures involved four major stings involving French or Pacific Islands crime fighting authorities. Australian authorities also liaised with New Zealand Customs in the seizure of 24kg of cocaine worth up to $10.8 million in Paihia last week.
A French national, who Customs said came into New Zealand on a cruise ship, has been charged with possessing a class A drug for supply.
Australian authorities also played a crucial role in a French Navy effort that captured 1.4 tonnes from the yacht Afalina near New Caledonia in July.
These huge shipments are "massive and fairly unprecedented", experts have told
Daily Mail Australia
Based on previous estimates, they could have a combined street value of about $1 billion.
Professor Andrew Goldsmith a criminologist from Flinders University said cocaine comes "overwhelmingly" from Colombia and Peru. Loads of cocaine believed to be bound for Australia have been found in Tahiti, Vanuatu and near Tonga, reports said.
In February, in its most significant sting, the AFP helped seize a record 1.4 tonnes in cocaine from the New Zealand yacht Elakha, after it met a "mothership" in the Pacific and was intercepted by authorities 370km off the New South Wales coast.
Unbeknownst to the alleged smugglers, authorities had been monitoring them from the Pacific Transnational Crime Coordination Centre (PTCCC) in Samoa.
In October, the AFP also seized 600kg of cocaine of the coast of New Caledonia and a further 700kg last month in Lake Macquarie, allegedly en route from Tahiti.
Last Christmas, police seized more than 600kg of cocaine when they busted a massive alleged ring involving 15 men, and which detectives claimed involved a fishing vessel.
Plus, in late August 2016, Canadian porn star turned drug mule Isabelle Lagace tried to smuggle 30kg of cocaine into Sydney, via a cruise vessel that had travelled to Australia via the South Pacific.
Goldsmith said the "massive" boat importations are "pretty substantial and fairly unprecedented".
"Sailing boats have been crisscrossing the Pacific forever so the fact people use them to bring cocaine is not surprising to me," he said.
It is quite common for cocaine to be transported by sea up the west coast of South America to Mexico, he said.
But there was a massive, and no doubt tempting, possible payoff for smugglers looking to transport cocaine into Australia.
"Australia is renowned as probably paying the highest price per gram in the world," Goldsmith said.
"It makes it a naturally attractive target for drug traffickers to get it here.
"We're a big market but they're massive importations."
Demand for cocaine, which sells for at least $300 a bag in Sydney, is skyrocketing, according to Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research figures.
Over the 12 months to September 2016, the bureau recorded 1817 incidents of cocaine possession. Over the 12 months to September 2017, the figure was 2566.
"It's been steadily climbing," the bureau's Dr Don Weatherburn told the Australian Associated Press recently.
"I think it would be a fair thing to say that it reflects, at least in part, a real increase in cocaine consumption."
But it is rare for cocaine to be detected at the Australian border in sea cargo, statistics said.
The latest Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission report found sea cargo amounted to 0.1 per cent of detections.
Most — 94.7 per cent — of all cocaine importations detected were sent through the post.
An AFP spokesman said: "Over the past two years the AFP has achieved significant success through close collaboration with Australian and international partner agencies to disrupt transnational crime."
Other big seizures of cocaine from boats in recent years include the discovery of a marooned yacht on a deserted Pacific island in November 2012. It had 204kg of cocaine and a badly decomposing body stashed inside. Local investigators said the shipment was destined for Australia.
In 2011, Spanish skipper Ivan Ramos-Valea was caught importing 300kg of cocaine from Vanuatu to Bundaberg, Queensland, on his racing yacht Friday Freedom.
His wife, Julia, was jailed for two years before a jury acquitted her of drug smuggling charges.
Drop in the ocean
November 15, 2012: Tongan police find a yacht marooned on a deserted Pacific island with a badly decomposing body and 204kg of cocaine (worth up to $116 million). Investigators said the shipment was destined for Australia.
August 2013: A joint Australian-US operation uncovers a yacht, Raj, moore at Port Vila, Vanuatu with an estimated 750kg of cocaine stashed in engine compartments and around its keel.
November 2013: Skipper Ivan Maria Ramos-Valea is sentenced to 25 years' jail for the brazen 2011 importation of 300kg of cocaine from Vanuatu to Bundaberg, Queensland on the yacht Friday Freedom. His wife Julia Fernandez, who accompanied him on the journey, would spend two years in jail for a crime she didn't commit before being acquitted by a jury.
August 2015: Five men are arrested on the Gold Coast after police seize more than 70kg of cocaine from a moored yacht, the Solay, at Coomera. Police alleged the vehicle sailed from Vanuatu.
March 2016: The French Navy intercepts a 600kg shipment of cocaine off Tahiti. Police would later allege the shipment was en route to shores Downunder.
August 2016: "Porn model" Isabelle Lagace is arrested after trying to smuggle 30kg of cocaine into Australia via a cruise ship. She pleads guilty to importing a commercial quantity of cocaine
December 25, 2016: Police allege a conspiracy to import 500kg of cocaine from South America, worth an estimated $360m. The shipment was allegedly uncovered on a boat in Sydney. The importation plot allegedly involved a rendezvous with a Chilean "mothership" in international waters.
February 3, 2017: Six men are arrested and 1.4 tonnes of cocaine - with an estimated street value of more than $312 million - seized after the New Zealand yacht, Elakha, is intercepted 370km off the coast of New South Wales. Police alleged the yacht had met a "mothership" in the South Pacific.
July 27, 2017: Four men from Lithuania and Latvia are caught by the French Navy near Tonga smuggling a record-breaking 1.4 tonnes shipment of cocaine on the yacht Afalina.
October 2017: The AFP seize 600kg of cocaine off the coast of New Caledonia.
November 15, 2017: Police intercept a yacht believed to be filled with 700kg of cocaine with a street value of $245m, at Lake Macquarie, north of Sydney, and arrest three men aged between 47 and 68. Investigators said the arrests came amid assistance from Tahitian police and came after authorities had tracked a vessel of interest through the South Pacific Ocean.
December 21, 2017: French tourist who New Zealand authorities say arrived on a cruise ship, arrested in Paihia after the discovery of 24kg cocaine with a street value of up to $10.8 million.