South Koreans Find Cocaine Abandoned by Smugglers in Vessel’s Sea Chest

Divers found a barnacle-encrusted bag that contained 28 kg of cocaine (photos: Daegu District Prosecutors' Office)

Published Apr 16, 2024 3:50 PM by The Maritime Executive


South Korean authorities believe they have found a cocaine shipment that got away from the smugglers and may have been traveling under discovered for nearly a year. Divers recovered a bundle with more than 28 kg of cocaine which was valued at more than $10 million from a ship during a routinely scheduled cleaning of the hull.

Prosecutors reported that the unidentified 25,000 ton cargo ship arrived in the port of Ulsan at the beginning of April on a trip that originated in Mexico on March 4 and made a stop in Canada between March 16 and 19. After the vessel anchored in the Korean port, divers were cleaning the hull when they discovered a suspicious bag and notified the authorities.

The ship is registered in Singapore and is normally used to transport zinc and lead. After the stop in South Korea, it was scheduled to proceed to Japan and then New Zealand.


Authorities believe the bag was abandoned and traveled the world for up to a year

The cocaine was found in the ship’s sea chest. Customs authorities report that the examination of the bag revealed 28 one-kilogram blocks of cocaine wrapped in watertight bags. Two blocks had a GPS tracking system attached, but they also noted that the bag was heavily encrusted with sea growth.

Interviewing the ship’s crew and checking the records, Customs reports the sea chest had not been opened since June 2023. They suspect the drugs were hidden in the vessel around that time in part because the batteries on the GPS tracking devices were dead. Normally, they said the batteries should last up to one year. Also, they said it is very unusual to find the barnacles attached to these bags.

Most of the cocaine discovered in smuggling operations they said is destined for countries other than Korea. They suspect the smugglers failed to meet the ship as planned and that the cocaine was abandoned and left to travel the world undetected. 

The authorities confiscated the cell phones of the crew aboard the ship and interviewed the captain and other officers. They also conducted drug tests and reported that they found no evidence leading them to believe the current crew had any knowledge of the cocaine or was involved in the smuggling operation. They also believe that the divers who were hired to service the vessel were not involved in the smuggling operation.

Customs authorities are currently reviewing the vessel’s logs and routing looking for information that could provide more information about the smugglers. They are also working with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to see if more information can be learned about the smuggling operation.