Philippine authorities recovered a shipment of cocaine worth 120 million pesos (U.S. $2.4 million dollars) and that washed ashore in the central region, and they suspect it may have come from a Chinese vessel that sank nearby, officials said Friday.
The stash of about two dozen bags of cocaine could have fallen from the hold of MV Jin Ming No. 16, a Chinese cargo ship that sank this week in stormy weather off the coast of Northern Samar, near the central Philippine town of Matnog, police said.
Nine Chinese crewmen were rescued from the ill-fated vessel, and they were being questioned. But police would not say whether the crewmembers were being treated as illegal drug traffickers.
According to local police spokesman Supt. Nonito Marquez, a fisherman reported finding the stash of drugs at a nearby lagoon on Wednesday. About 24 sealed packs containing a kilo (2.2 pounds) each of the white powder were found.
Laboratory tests subsequently showed that the substance was cocaine, police said.
The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency confirmed that the packs contained cocaine with a street value of about 120 million pesos, according to the police.
Investigators were looking at the possibility that the cocaine stash fell off the cargo ship, which sent out a mayday signal on Tuesday after hitting rough seas and stormy weather.
The crewmembers, mostly from Hong Kong and Taiwan, were rescued before the vessel sank. It was passing through the area and was en route to Chile when the accident happened.
The Philippines has been identified as a major transshipment hub of drugs from the Chinese triads, and President Rodrigo Duterte has launched a deadly campaign against illegal narcotics since assuming office in 2016.
Meanwhile his son, Paolo Duterte, has been accused of protecting Chinese drug syndicates allegedly involved in the shipment of methamphetamine worth U.S. $125 million.
He denied the accusation when he appeared before a Senate inquiry into the failure of the customs bureau to stop the shipment, but Duterte’s allies in the chamber did not press the issue.
Recently, President Duterte reappointed the country’s disgraced customs chief as a deputy chief of the country’s civil defense office.
Various rights groups, including the Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have criticized the government’s brutal war on drugs, which, they say, has left more than 12,000 suspected drug dealers and addicts dead so far.
Police, however, have disputed this figure, saying it was bloated. Official figures show that only several hundred people have been killed to date in the Philippine drug war.