Tropical islanders getting hooked on washed-up cocaine
By Nick Squires in Sydney
For centuries the sea sustained the Marshall Islands, yielding fish to eat and contact with explorers and traders in one of the loneliest parts of the Pacific.
But the residents of the tiny tropical nation are now struggling to deal with an entirely unexpected ocean bounty: a huge consignment of cocaine.
Last March dozens of packets of the drug washed up on the palm-fringed beaches of Ebeye, one of more than 1,000 coral islands which make up the Marshall Islands.
The neatly-wrapped bricks, which police believe were dumped overboard by drug runners fleeing the US Coast Guard, weighed 60lb and were seized by the authorities.
More accustomed to coconuts than cocaine, the islands have no history of drug abuse but the unusual jetsam was to change that.
It has now emerged that some of the cocaine was stolen from a police station. With more packages probably found by beachcombing islanders, Ebeye is now awash with the stuff. The cocaine, selling in small bags for only five dollars, has found a ready market.
Although the Marshall Islands were described by Robert Louis Stevenson in 1889 as "the pearl of the Pacific", Ebeye is now little more than a slum.
Its 12,000 inhabitants live in crowded one-room shacks made of plywood, crammed together on the 80-acre island. Around 1,500 of them work at a large US military base nearby, on Kwajelein Island, used to test intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Since the cocaine washed ashore, 14 locals have been charged with possession of the drug and several have been jailed.
Packages of cocaine have been washing up on remote, uninhabited parts of the Marshall Islands since the early 1990s.
Named in 1788 by a British sailor, John Marshall, the islands were the scene of fierce fighting between US and Japanese forces during the war.
Drug News + Ebeye + Marshall Islands + Cocaine