Authorities in New Zealand have intercepted about 35 kilograms of cocaine in a reefer at the Port of Tauranga.

NZ Customs Service said they uncovered the haul during a routine inspection of high-risk vessels and shipments.

The cocaine was hidden in the engine compartment of a reefer loaded with bananas, which arrived from Panama on Thursday 9 November.

Port of Tauranga chief executive Leonard Sampson said the port was willing to support Customs’ operations even if it meant causing delays to legitimate cargo.

“Port of Tauranga and our customers understand the value of the work done by Customs and New Zealand Police to protect our communities from harm,” he said.

“Our security and operations teams are highly focused on safety and preventing any illegal activity at our port.”

Customs group manager maritime Paul Campbell said the outcome was a result of well-targeted and regular verification checks on shipments at the border.

“Customs is extremely proud of the work both frontline officers and our support teams do every day to intercept the smuggling efforts of transnational organised crime groups who aim to exploit our communities and profit from the harm they inflict through their trafficking,” he said.

Customs estimates the haul could have produced about 350,000 individual doses of cocaine worth a “street value” up to NZ$15.7 million.

This seizure comes two weeks after 140 kilograms of cocaine was seized from a shipping container at the Port of Auckland.

“There is an economic cost with this criminal behaviour that includes disruption to legitimate activity on New Zealand’s ports,” Mr Campbell said.

“While Customs risk assesses all incoming shipments and vessels, the time involved for physical searches is significant.

“Like the Customs’ operation in Auckland recently, where 140 kilograms of cocaine was seized, clearance of other legitimate shipments becomes inevitably slower while we undertake inspections for suspect containers.

“This is time-consuming work but Customs, and port operators understand it has to happen to stop the criminal activity that threatens New Zealand’s supply chain.”