New Zealand’s coastline is wide open to drug smugglers, a researcher and criminologist says.
Recent record drug busts beg the question – where does a 500 kg haul of methamphetamine come from?
How do organized crime groups get drugs to New Zealand?
Flows of methamphetamine, cocaine, and other illicit drugs around the world are, for obvious reasons, difficult to pin down.
Bales of meth could be dropped in one of two ways: from an aircraft, which is highly unlikely; or from a larger boat.
Canterbury University professor of sociology and criminology Greg Newbold said trafficking methamphetamine in large quantities to New Zealand could feasibly begin in a coastal city in China.
Reports by the UN and other international monitoring agencies finger Hong Kong, Ghangzhou and southeastern Chinese provinces as a drug shipment hub.
If the drugs are not manufactured in China, then in all likelihood they will be shipped to China from drug-producing centers in southeast Asia, such as Myanmar, Lao and Cambodia – the infamous “Golden Triangle“.
Drugs could also flow through east and southeast Asia to New Zealand or from the Americas via the Pacific.
Much of the coast is remote and wide open and under international shipping laws, vessels can seek shelter in New Zealand waters in bays and inlets, without clearing Customs.
Other shipments could be concealed in container ships and offloaded surreptitiously in ports, Newbold said.
“Most of the big busts have come from China.
“Increasingly it’s because the police have been effective on the clandestine labs, they’ve reduced. The amount of pure meth coming has increased.
“Sometimes New Zealand will be used as an end destination but sometimes it would be used as a place to transport drugs as a stop-off point. If you were going to send drugs to Australia they would be less alert to the possibility of meth arriving [from New Zealand].
“The big thing is if it’s going to be dumped at sea it’s come direct from China.
“The New Zealand coast has been used in this way for years. You can send boats out, go out fishing, passing yachts and not enter [sovereign] waters and don’t have to go through customs.
“It’s really an open go.”
New Zealand ‘s coastline is 17,000 kilometers and most of it is well off the beaten track.
In China, most of the seized methamphetamine production labs lie in a block of provinces in the centre of the country.
The countries with the most seizures of meth are the United States, Mexico, China, Thailand and Iran.
In New Zealand, in 2015, Customs seized 258 kg of meth with an estimated street value of $219.7 million and 761kg of ephedrine worth $87m.
The bulk of the world’s heroin supply originates in Afghanistan, cocaine from South America and the world’s amphetamine-type stimulants from southeast Asia, China, west Africa and the Americas.
Meth smuggled into New Zealand, in all likelihood, originates in China or southeast Asia, but could also have made its way to the far east from the Americas.
China’s crystal meth epidemic is hard to comprehend with the number of users estimated at two million.
In reality, the origin of a meth shipment is hard to pinpoint.
The Pacific ocean and small island nations are also used as staging posts for smuggling drugs around Oceania through, for example, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and Timor-Leste.
An International Narcotics Control Board report into the global amphetamine trade said smugglers use New Zealand residential addresses falsely claimed as legitimate Kiwi companies.
“Large importations are increasingly common, and offenders apparently have no difficulty accessing those chemicals, as reflected in the fact that there is no discernible decline in the methamphetamine market.
“Authorities consider the use of the Pacific Ocean by organized criminal groups to move illicit drugs and precursors to be of high risk to New Zealand.”
In the most recent available report, the Organized and Financial Crime Agency New Zealand (OFCANZ) said there were four types of organized crime perpetrated in New Zealand by youth gangs, adult gangs, family syndicates and international syndicates.
Organized crime groups were linked by ethnicity, or involvement in a specific market.
“West African, Vietnamese, Chinese, Iranian, Italian, Romanian, Pakistani and Malaysian organized crime groups have all been noted for their involvement in a range of organized offending including fraud, intellectual property crime and illicit drug activity.
“Asian organized crime groups in particular continue to pose a serious threat to New Zealand, due to their ongoing involvement and central role in the illicit drug market.”
It’s important to note the majority of meth supplied in New Zealand is produced domestically, using precursor chemicals, but the number of seizures of the finished product continues to increase at the border.
China and India are the primary sources for precursor chemicals.
Drugs flow from manufacturers in China and southeast Asia, mainly Thailand, Myanmar, Lao and Indonesia, to Australia and New Zealand, by any conceivable means – boat, aircraft, smuggled in goods, post, sea containers and so on.
Production of meth in west Africa and subsequent smuggling into Asia and the Pacific including New Zealand has also increased, according to reports.
Since 2010, the global production and seizure levels of the finished drug have increased in New Zealand.
A report to Cabinet in 2015 said usage among the Kiwi population remained steady. Seizures of meth precursor drug pseudoephedrine remained constant but seizures of the other main precursor, ephedrine, and the finished product, have increased markedly in the past few years.
Not including the recent Northland seizure, which was more than all 2015 seizures, these trends are echoed by other official monitoring agencies. That seizure outstrips all previous years in terms of the quantity of meth seized at the border.
In 2015, a total of 334.3 kg of the drug were seized, more than three times the amount stopped at the border in 2014 and more than nine times the amount seized in 2013.
In the first quarter of 2016, Customs seized 77 shipments of meth worth $47.7m
Australia, too, had record seizures of the finished drug and precursors.
Of course, all the available figures represent the amounts seized, not the amounts that have made it into New Zealand.
A 2015 report by the International Narcotics Control Board said the South Pacific was a recognized smuggling route and, although small, the Kiwi cocaine market was growing.
As for methamphetamine, the Australia Crime Commission reports the precursors are sourced manly from China and India.
“New Zealand saw more finished methamphetamine trafficked in 2014, possibly in response to increased law enforcement pressure on precursor imports and on domestic clandestine laboratories,” the report said.
Police national manager of organized crime Detective Superintendent Virginia Le Bas said technologies for meth manufacturing and distribution were always evolving.
While the technology was becoming more sophisticated, there would always be criminals who were “clumsy and opportunistic”, who would have to carry out some of the work, she said.
“I wouldn’t like to give them too much credit.”