Australian authorities seized more than a ton of cocaine worth hundreds of millions of dollars, police said on Thursday, describing it as one of the country’s largest drug busts.
Fifteen men, including commercial fishing operators, were arrested for allegedly importing the cocaine from South America.
The combined value of the cocaine is about 258.5 million U.S. dollars.
The arrests follow a two-and-a-half year investigation into fishermen who were allegedly using trawlers to move cocaine from South America to Australia.
Police said the secret operation culminated in arrests on Christmas Day at Sydney Fish Markets when a trawler docked that had allegedly been used to meet a “mother ship’’.
“This is a very significant organised crime group,’’ New South Wales Police Force Assistant Commissioner Mark Jenkins said.
Federal Police Acting Assistant Commissioner Chris Sheehan said at a press conference that investigations were continuing in South America to find the suppliers of the cocaine.
Police said a group of Australians were caught smuggling 500 kilograms of cocaine at a small coastal village north of Sydney on Christmas Day.
A separate shipment of 600 kilograms was intercepted in March by the French Navy off the coast of Tahiti, which was destined for Australia.
In July 2014, Operation Okesi was launched to investigate suspected drug trafficking by commercial fisherman in Sydney.
About 32 kilograms of heroin was found in Fiji in December 2014 that police say the gang was trying to smuggle into Australia.
The 15 were charged with serious drug importation offences and refused bail.