Last week, the UK’s National Crime Agency intercepted a converted New Zealand Navy patrol boat and arrested its six crew members on suspicion of drug trafficking. After a thorough search, officers removed two tons of cocaine from its onboard stash.
The converted yacht Kahu, a former Royal New Zealand Navy patrol boat was intercepted by NCA officers on Thursday night at a position about 70 miles off the coast of Plymouth. The Kahu was making a long voyage from the Caribbean, but did not reach its intended destination; instead, the team escorted it back to shore for a “deep search.”
Its six crew members, including a British national and five Nicaraguans, have been arrested and are in custody.
“This is a huge haul of cocaine with an estimated street value of about [$220 million],” said NCA Deputy Director Matt Horne. “There is no doubt that these drugs would have been sold in communities across the UK… fueling further crime and misery. Organized crime groups are motivated by money. Deprivation of these drugs will blow a hole in [the group’s] plans and ability to operate.”
The Kahu, built in 1979, was converted at New Zealand shipyard Fitzroy Yachts in 2011, and its former owner – Fitzroy founder Peter White-Robinson – told Canada’s National Post that the vessel would be a good candidate for smuggling due to its autonomy. For a trans-Pacific cruiser, White-Robinson added enough tank space to go 8,000 miles between bunkering ports. He sold the vessel in 2013 along with Fitzroy Yachts, and it has since changed hands several times.
The raid was facilitated by the Australian Federal Police, who provided the NCA with information obtained through Australia’s access to the AnOm encrypted communication platform. The AnOm “secure phone” was conceived and created by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation for distribution to suspected criminals, and the FBI and its international partners used a backdoor in the application to covertly monitor organized crime syndicates for years. In total, the undercover effort captured 27 million messages from 12,000 devices around the world, leading to impressive drug busts and more than 800 arrests.
“Operation Ironside has opened the door to unprecedented collaboration between law enforcement agencies around the world,” said AFP Deputy Commissioner Lesa Gale. “This outcome underscores the importance of the AFP’s partnership with the NCA in combating transnational organized crime affecting our two countries.”