Customs officials seized 343 kilograms of cocaine hidden in hundreds of fake ceramic tiles at the Port of Halifax, it was announced yesterday.

The cocaine, worth an estimated $17 million on the street, was said to be tucked into dummy tiles mixed with legitimate tiles in a 20-foot marine container on a ship originating in Venezuela.

The container held 647 boxes of tiles, 76 of which contained cocaine. Officials said each fabricated tile contained two 250-gram black plastic bags sealed inside.

Officials made the seizure on Nov. 9, but announced it after the arrest of Michel Safar, 47, in Montreal yesterday morning.

Safar faces charges of possession of cocaine for the purposes of trafficking and the investigation continues, RCMP Staff Sgt. Alan Harding said.

“At this point we do not believe there are any local connections to this case,” Harding said.

Officers wouldn’t say what triggered their search, but suspicions led them to run the tiles through X-ray machines.

“I wouldn’t suggest it was out of the blue. We targeted (the ship),” said Andrew LeFrank of the Canadian Borders Security Agency.

The drugs were unloaded in Halifax with police saying they were to have been taken by truck or train to Montreal.

“I’d say this is a pretty significant concealment method,” said LeFrank. “It would have taken a fair amount of effort to do this.”

Officials wouldn’t say if Safar, who was described as a businessman, was part of an organized crime gang, but did say more arrests were expected.

“To use a national port and bring a container in certainly requires some coordination,” LeFrank said.

Police said there was no indication the ship or other transport companies were aware of the hidden cargo.

Harding said a kilogram of cocaine sells for about $50,000 in Halifax. “It’s certainly on the higher end of cocaine seizures,” he said.

Safar will appear in court today to face charges of possession and trafficking.