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An 18-foot fiberglass boat
An 18-foot fiberglass boat washed up on Ailuk Atoll, a remote atoll with about 400 people, in the Marshall Islands last week with 649 kilos of cocaine sealed in its hold under the deck. Picture: Marshall Islands Police Department/AFP
Home » Security » The cocaine ‘ghost boat’ and its $100m abandoned cargo

The cocaine ‘ghost boat’ and its $100m abandoned cargo

PortandTerminal.com, December 17, 2020

A small, seemingly abandoned boat washed up on a remote island in the Pacific last week carrying no passengers. What was carrying though was a surprise cargo of 1,430 pounds of cocaine.

The 18-foot (5.4-meter) fibreglass vessel was discovered on a beach at Ailuk Atoll in the Marshall Islands, a chain of coral atolls and volcanic islands between the Philippines and Hawaii.

It’s not the first time that drugs have washed up on the remote Pacific archipelago, but last week’s discovery set a new record.

Local police said that it was the largest volume of cocaine to ever wash up the Marshall Islands. They reckon that the 649 bricks have an estimated street value of up to $100 million.

Bricks of wrapped cocaine
In total, 649 bricks of cocaine were found in the boat.

The cocaine came sealed and wrapped in blocks, according to the Marshall Islands police, who then collected and destroyed most of the packages by burning them in an incinerator. Photos of the blocks show stained, yellowing plastic, stamped with a red logo that bears the letters “KW.”

Authorities said they believed the boat had drifted over from South or Central America and could have been at sea for one or two years. Pacific Ocean currents often push debris from there to the Marshall Islands, and drug finds are not uncommon.

This may be one of the biggest drug hauls, but it’s certainly not the first; islands in the Pacific are on a major international drug trafficking route, and numerous drug packages have previously been seized or discovered in the Marshall Islands.

Two mean burning bricks of cocaine.
This time authorities were able to destroy the drugs. Sometimes though locals keep drugs that wash up onto their beaches.

A resident found nearly 40 pounds (18 kg) of cocaine in 2016, and was arrested for not immediately handing it to police; a fisherman reeled in 105 pounds (48 kg) of suspected cocaine in 2018; just this year, police suspect a supply of cocaine may have washed up on Maloelap Atoll and contributed to an explosion in drug use and drug-related health complications.

Many of the packages that wash up are professionally wrapped; sometimes residents take the drugs instead of reporting them, fueling widespread drug availability and use. The problem has escalated so much this year that the Marshall Islands parliament established a drug task force in May as part of a larger crackdown effort.

With reporting by CNN and BBC

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