Cocaine just passing through NZ - police
A cocaine shipment with an estimated street value of $1.2 million discovered by chance in an empty shipping container in Christchurch was not destined for New Zealand, police say.
Three large packages, each containing 1 kilogram of the white powder, were found by staff at the Lyttelton Port Company (LPC) city depot in Woolston about 2.30pm on February 10.
Investigators confirmed it was a shipment of cocaine, which has an average street value of about $400 a gram.
Large quantities of the addictive, Class A controlled drug are rarely found in New Zealand.
Detective Inspector Virginia Le Bas said inquiries indicated that the container in which the material was found was routed from South America to Europe.
Police believed the original destination was Rotterdam, she said.
"Indications are that the package had been in the container for some time."
Testing had confirmed that the material was cocaine, Le Bas said. Police and Customs had exhausted all inquiries trying to work out who was responsible for the shipment.
Earlier this month, Lyttelton Port of Christchurch chief executive Peter Davie said staff were repairing a refrigeration unit on an empty shipping container when a suspicious looking package containing white powder fell to the ground. Two similar packages were found and police were called. The container was not in a customs controlled area at the time, he said.
"There are literally millions of containers that come into the country every year. If people go to the 'nth degree to stow things it's difficult to track down.
"If we see something suspicious then we hand it over to the relevant authorities. We are not actually the front-line agency looking for these things. Our staff have done a great job with this one."
Davie said he did not know where the container came from or where it was destined. He could not recall the last significant drug seizure at the port.
Detective Senior Sergeant Tony Hill said seizures of the drug were "relatively uncommon" in Canterbury. The use and sale of cocaine had not come to the attention of the district's police in the past year, he said.
New Zealand Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell said the country's cocaine use was modest, "because we're not seen as an important or lucrative market".
Most significant quantities of cocaine seized in New Zealand were bound for Australia.
"The rarity of [cocaine] is displayed in its price. It's an expensive drug, " Bell said.
"It kind of has a reputation as being a bit of a party drug and harmless, but that's not always the case. People do get hooked and people do die from it."
Figures provided by police show authorities have seized 33kg of cocaine in the last six years.
Six people were arrested after customs found 3kg of 80 per cent pure cocaine inside the lining of a man's suitcase at Auckland Airport in December 2011. The shipment, with an estimated street value of $1.2m, came from Mexico via Los Angeles. Peru, Colombia and Bolivia are the world's leading producers of coca, the plant used to make cocaine.