Marshall Islands police have found the Pacific nation’s largest-ever haul of cocaine in an abandoned boat that washed up on a remote atoll after drifting on the high seas.
Attorney General Richard Hickson said the 5.5-metre (18-foot) fibreglass vessel was found at Ailuk atoll last week with 649 kilogrammes (1,430 pounds) of cocaine hidden in a compartment beneath the deck.
The haul is estimated to be worth more than $80m, according to media reports.
Hickson said the vessel most likely drifted across the Pacific from Central or South America.
“It could have been drifting for a year or two,” he said.
Police said the drugs, which were in 1kg (2.2 lbs) packages marked with the letters “KW”, were incinerated on Tuesday.
Two packs will be given to the US Drug Enforcement Agency for analysis.
Debris from the Americas often washes up in the Marshalls after months or years at sea, driven by Pacific Ocean currents.
While the latest haul was by far the largest, there have been numerous other stashes of drugs found along the Marshall Islands’ shoreline over the past 20 years.
According to Radio New Zealand (RNZ) news media, an Ailuk resident was found guilty earlier this year after he tried to board an Air Marshall Islands flight with 3kg (6.6 lbs) of cocaine.
Residents in other islands – such as Enewetak, Rongelap, Bikini, Kwajalein, Likiep and Mili – have found on their shores multi-kilo packages of cocaine over the past 20 years, RNZ reported.
Law enforcement officials have various theories about the origins of such drugs, including that they were abandoned when smugglers were in danger of being caught or lost in storms.
In January 2014, Salvadoran fisherman Jose Alvarenga washed up in the Marshalls, more than 13 months after he set off from Mexico’s west coast with a companion, who died during the voyage.
After his discovery, University of Hawaii researchers conducted 16 computer simulations of drift patterns from the Mexico coast and found nearly all eventually arrived in the Marshall Islands.