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Australian Police Seize Record Drug Haul

FILE - A Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent is seen in this file photo. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) intercepted 2.4 tonnes of cocaine aboard a vessel off the coast of South America that had been bound for Australia.

Australian police have released details of what is believed to be the country’s biggest-ever drug bust. Investigators say a covert international operation has prevented more than two metric tons of cocaine, worth $670 million, from reaching Western Australia.

Australian police say the drugs were intercepted by U.S. authorities off the coast of Ecuador in November.

The large haul of cocaine was bound for Western Australia.

Investigators say it was seized without the knowledge of the traffickers. Police in Western Australia then covertly replaced the cocaine with plaster of paris, a fine white powder.

The shipment was dropped into the Indian Ocean west of Perth and monitored by drones and helicopters.

Western Australia’s police commissioner, Col Blanch, told reporters Saturday it was a sophisticated operation.

“We had to use extensive resources, extensive surveillance, detectives, intelligence officers, the Tactical response Group, air wing," Blanch said. "WA [Western Australia] is an attractive coastline because they think they will not be detected but they do not understand the capability of WA police.”

Western Australian police watched as a criminal syndicate with alleged links to a Mexican cartel used two boats to find and retrieve the consignment that had been replaced with the fake drugs.

Surveillance images show one of the vessels towing the other after it had washed up on a beach where two men were arrested. Other suspected members of the gang were later detained at a harbor in Perth, the Western Australian state capital.

The police also stopped a vehicle on a highway several hundred kilometers away, where they found a large amount of cash.

Twelve people have been arrested, including a 39-year-old man from the United States.

This haul is estimated to be about half of Australia's annual consumption of cocaine.