MORE than 200kg of cocaine with an estimated Australian street value of $116 million has been seized off the coast of Tonga.

Tongan authorities made the massive haul, which was bound for Australia, after a collaborative ongoing operation between Tongan police, Cook Islands police, Australian Federal Police, Australian Customs and Border Protection and the United States Drug Enforcement Administration.

The drugs were concealed within the hull of a 13m yacht named JeReVe, which ran aground on the island of Luatatifo in the northern Vava'u province of Tonga.

A Tongan coronial investigation is also underway after the body of a man was recovered from the yacht.

AFP forensics officers and Australian forensic pathologists are assisting with the investigation.

Due to challenges caused by tidal conditions and its remote location, Tongan authorities took several days to examine the vessel.

An investigation was sparked when AFP received information from the US DEA in August that a small yacht carrying cocaine had left Ecuador en route to Australia.

AFP, Customs and the US DEA formed a specialised project to examine the activity of international organised crime syndicates in the South Pacific.

Cook Islands police joined the investigation when it was discovered the yacht was in waters near the country.

An extensive search of the region by Cook Islands police maritime specialists and inquiries across the Pacific Transnational Crime Network were launched to locate the yacht, which was later discovered off a small atoll in Tonga.

The AFP is continuing to work with Tongan police at the crime scene.

Tongan Police Commissioner Grant O'Fee said the operation would not have succeeded without the help of AFP officers.

AFP Acting Assistant Commissioner David Sharpe said the operation highlighted the importance of a collaborative approach.


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