HomeNewsCocaine Prices in Australia, New Zealand Worth the Trek for Traffickers

Cocaine Prices in Australia, New Zealand Worth the Trek for Traffickers


Two multi-ton cocaine seizures near Australia and New Zealand had an estimated street value of over $1 billion, leading to a rethink about the flow of drugs being sent down under from Latin America.

Australian federal police announced in early March that 2.4 tons of cocaine had been seized en route to the country, setting a new national record. While only recently revealed, the seizure took place back in November when US drug enforcement officials boarded the vessel off the coast of Ecuador.

Instead of simply seizing the drugs, authorities decided to bait the traffickers in Australia. The real cocaine, worth an estimated $677 million, was replaced with identically packed fake narcotics, transported, and dropped into the ocean 40 nautical miles off the southwestern city of Perth on December 28.

Three men were then arrested on December 30 after going out to sea to retrieve the drugs, and further investigations led to nine more arrests in the country.

SEE ALSO: Does Australia Receive Enough Cocaine To Meet Demand?

And in February, the New Zealand Customs Service announced the interception of a still-greater quantity of cocaine, totaling 3.2 tons. The haul was found in dozens of packages floating six days north of the country by ship. This shipment was intended for Australia as it represented "30 years of cocaine" supply for New Zealand, said Greg Williams, the director of the country's anti-organized crime police unit.

In both cases, a Mexican connection is suspected. The traffickers who picked up the cocaine off Perth were known to have links to an unspecified Mexican cartel, according to Western Australia's police commissioner, Col Blanch.  

"On the cocaine side, it is safe to assess that Mexican cartels have monopolistic control of the supply and value chain [to Australia]," John Coyne, head of border security at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, told InSight Crime.

InSight Crime Analysis

As cocaine production continues to soar, traffickers may be willing to brave more risks to get across the Pacific Ocean, given the profits involved.

A kilogram of cocaine, depending on purity, may sell for as much as 400,000 Australian dollars ($266,000) in the country's eastern cities, according to the Australian federal police in August 2022. Similarly eye-watering prices can be fetched in New Zealand, making the two countries among the most lucrative cocaine markets in the world.

"Australians pay some of the highest prices in the world for illicit drugs. So when this is combined with an excess of supply of products from Latin America, it is natural that these groups would be targeting Australia to expand," stated Anthea McCarthy-Jones, a lecturer and organized crime expert at the University of New South Wales.

SEE ALSO: Crafty Trafficking - How Cocaine is Flowing Between LatAm and Australia

And while the latest discoveries were surprisingly large, they represent a logical escalation. Smaller yet still notable cocaine hauls have been piling up in Australia for several years. The country's previous cocaine seizure record was only set in 2020, itself beating out a 2017 haul.

The Sinaloa Cartel, Mexico's most prominent criminal group, appears to have been able to follow this rise in demand. Since at least 2011, Australian authorities have pointed to the group as a major supplier of cocaine and methamphetamine. Using connections in Peru and Ecuador to secure cocaine shipments, the Sinaloa Cartel has also teamed up with Australia-based biker gangs to distribute the drugs locally, Coyne explained to InSight Crime.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.


What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.


Related Content


Mexican armed forces have captured the reported leader of the feared Northeast Cartel, but this arrest may only stoke further…

FENTANYL / 22 OCT 2021

Fentanyl continues to wreak havoc on both sides of the US-Mexico border, as Mexican security forces continue to seize the…


In October 2021, the Venezuelan Ministry of the Interior issued an ordinary looking statement about an antinarcotics operation in the…

About InSight Crime


InSight Crime Contributes Expertise Across the Board 

22 SEP 2023

This week InSight Crime investigators Sara García and María Fernanda Ramírez led a discussion of the challenges posed by Colombian President Gustavo Petro’s “Total Peace” plan within urban contexts. The…


InSight Crime Cited in New Colombia Drug Policy Plan

15 SEP 2023

InSight Crime’s work on emerging coca cultivation in Honduras, Guatemala, and Venezuela was cited in the Colombian government’s…


InSight Crime Discusses Honduran Women's Prison Investigation

8 SEP 2023

Investigators Victoria Dittmar and María Fernanda Ramírez discussed InSight Crime’s recent investigation of a massacre in Honduras’ only women’s prison in a Twitter Spaces event on…


Human Trafficking Investigation Published in Leading Mexican Newspaper

1 SEP 2023

Leading Mexican media outlet El Universal featured our most recent investigation, “The Geography of Human Trafficking on the US-Mexico Border,” on the front page of its August 30…


InSight Crime's Coverage of Ecuador Leads International Debate

25 AUG 2023

This week, Jeremy McDermott, co-director of InSight Crime, was interviewed by La Sexta, a Spanish television channel, about the situation of extreme violence and insecurity in Ecuador…