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Combined maritime forces seize drugs off Somali coast

Storyline:National News

An official said the traffickers were sailing south from the Arabian Sea and the dhow’s port of origin and destination could not be confirmed.

In another massive narcotics haul at sea which should concern law enforcement agencies in the region, 5,588kg of hashish worth $248 million was recovered from a traditional boat in regional waters, off the coast of Somalia. The bust is the latest in a series of 12 smuggling incidents foiled by naval forces operating under the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) based in Bahrain.

Thousands of kilograms of drugs, including heroin worth millions, have been seized and destroyed by naval patrols this year. An official said the traffickers were sailing south from the Arabian Sea and the dhow’s port of origin and destination could not be confirmed.  Well known, recognized smuggling routes run from the Makran Coast to East Africa and the Southern Arabian Peninsula.

The operation was conducted recently and  involved an Australian ship, the HMAS Toowoomba, and an Orion surveillance aircraft operated by the New Zealand navy. Rough seas made it difficult to board the vessel for a search operation, officials said. The warship and the aircraft tracked the smugglers’ boat for several days before halting its progress and gaining access to the drugs which were well concealed.

Smugglers are believed to have links to terror groups in the region like Al Shabaab, Boko Haram and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and when asked if the contraband could be used for terror funding, Major Matt Allen, UK Navy, Combined Maritime Forces, said: “CMF cannot speculate on the shipments final destination or the group it was intended for.  A core aim of CMF operations is to interrupt the flow of finance to terrorist organizations through the disruption of the illegal narcotics trade.”

He did not say how many smugglers were on the boat, but said they were set free after the drugs were transferred to naval vessels for destruction at sea. “The decision to arrest crew members is a national decision, not a matter for CMF. The crew of the dhow was released once the drugs had been seized.

Lieutenant Stefan Stuart, who led the board and search operation, said the hashish was concealed in hessian bags that his team found it difficult to ‘access and remove’. The weather was not on their side, but he said their persistence paid off in the end.

“I am proud of the tenacity and hard work displayed by the Toowoomba team to intercept and board the dhow in challenging weather conditions before executing an extensive search of the vessel to locate the elaborately concealed drugs,” said Commander Cath Hayes, the commanding officer of the Australian ship.

The task force currently conducting maritime security operations against terror is led by Commodore Sajid Mahmood of the Pakistan Navy.

In July, 6,248kg of hashish was seized and destroyed at sea by naval forces in what is believed to be the largest haul in recent years.

Source:Khaleej Times