$20 million worth of cocaine seized this morning in Tauranga

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Two Australians, a Croatian and a Serbian national have been arrested in a drug bust worth more than $20 million in Tauranga.

At least 46kg of cocaine was seized, after a ship from Chile arrived in New Zealand on Tuesday night.

A five-month Customs and police investigation found a cocaine shipment would be offloaded from a commercial ship outside of Tauranga.

Police say a group approached the ship at night time to retrieve the shipment that was concealed in a hidden compartment of the ship's hull.

"New Zealand is being targeted by international crime syndicates, as a market for cocaine," says Custom's spokesman Jamie Bamford.

"Our intelligence suggests an increase in demand and use, and this goes hand-in-hand with the increase in seizures we're making at the border."

The four foreigners were arrested across Tauranga, Mt Manganui and Auckland on Wednesday morning.

"These arrests have dismantled a trans-national crime syndicate, attempting to profit from a drug that would have caused a great deal of harm within our communities," says Police assistant commissioner Richard Chambers. 

"During the course of the inquiry, evidence has also been uncovered of a sophisticated money-laundering operation, sending hundreds of thousands of dollars out of New Zealand, through international criminal money remitters. Inquiries continue and I am confident that further arrests will be made, as evidence is uncovered, assessed and actioned."

The four accused will appear in Tauranga District Court on Wednesday afternoon, facing importing and possession charges.