A stranded yacht, a dead body and 204 kilos of cocaine – that is the scenario facing Australian police as they puzzle over a South Pacific mystery with a gruesome twist.
The 13-metre yacht, JeReVe, was found on a remote Tongan atoll, where it had run aground. When Tongan authorities boarded it, they discovered the drugs stashed in the hull – and the badly decomposed body of a Caucasian male. In August the Australian Federal Police received a tip-off from the US Drug Enforcement Agency, when the yacht – believed to belong to an organised crime syndicate – left Ecuador. Working with officials from the US and several Pacific nations, they tracked the vessel as it crossed the world's biggest ocean – heading for Australia, they believed. Then, in early October, they lost it.
Exactly a month later, the yacht turned up on the uninhabited island of Luatatifo, in northern Tonga.
There were two crew members on board when it set off from South America. Only the corpse remained when the boat was found. What happened in between is not known, but the man is thought to have died at about the time the Australian authorities lost track of the yacht.
An initial autopsy had difficulty in determining the cause of death. Tongan police have not yet said whether foul play is suspected. According to the Australian police, the drugs had a street value of about A$116m (£75.5m).