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Wednesday, October 14, 1998 Published at 06:56 GMT 07:56 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Australia's record drugs haul

Australian customs seized the freighter

Police in Australia have seized their largest-ever haul of heroin: 400kg, worth around A$400m ($250m).

Barbara Plett: "End of a 10-week international operation"
Australian Federal Police said there was enough of the drug to supply every household in Australia.

"It's the purest form of heroin," police agent Ray Tinker said.

[ image: The drugs were intercepted on a remote beach]
The drugs were intercepted on a remote beach
The drug was seized on a secluded beach 300km north of Sydney, when nearly 80 police and customs officers swarmed out of the darkness to surround a small boat as it landed.

Three men were immediately arrested.

"I'd say they were surprised to see us," police agent Tinker said.

Sydney Correspondent Red Harrison: "Biggest seizure"
At the same time, with support from the navy, a boarding party stormed aboard a 40-metre ship moored 25 miles off the coast and arrested the captain and crew, forcing some to lie down, their hands cuffed behind their backs.

The Belize-registered freighter had arrived off Port Macquarie after sailing from an undisclosed South East Asian port.

Ten week operation

[ image: Police and customs arrested 18 people]
Police and customs arrested 18 people
The complex police and customs operation began on August 7 when a 41-year-old Hong Kong man was stopped and searched at Sydney airport.

Australian authorities then worked with the Hong Kong police to try to uncover the smuggling ring.

Late on Tuesday evening, police, customs and navy officials used sophisticated thermal imaging equipment to watch the drugs being off-loaded from the freighter and on to the smaller boat.

A total of 18 people have so far been arrested, and police have said further inquiries are being made in Australia and Hong Kong.

[ image: The haul was thought to originate in South East Asia]
The haul was thought to originate in South East Asia
Police said the heroin came from South East Asia's infamous Golden Triangle, where the borders of Burma, Laos and Thailand converge. It was thought to be destined mainly for the streets of Sydney.

The state police minister in New South Wales, Paul Whelan, has said the seizure is merely the tip of the heroin iceberg.

He said customs are so inadequately funded in Australia they can search only one in every 50 arriving aircraft and only three in every 10,000 shipping containers for drugs.

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