News story

British forces help make record drug bust at sea

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Over 1,000 kilos of heroin have been seized in a Royal Navy-led multinational maritime forces and counter-terrorism operation.

An Australian warship operating under the command of a Royal Navy commodore and his British team made the record-breaking 1,032-kilogram haul, with an estimated UK street value of more than £140 million.

The heroin was discovered on board a dhow in the Indian Ocean, 30 miles off the east coast of Africa, near Kenya and Tanzania.

HMAS Darwin’s crew found the dhow during an operation for the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) counter-terrorism Combined Task Force (CTF) 150, currently commanded by Royal Navy Commodore Jeremy Blunden and manned by his team of 24 Royal Navy personnel in Bahrain.

The drugs interception is part of a multinational campaign to stop drug smuggling in the Indian Ocean, profits from which are known to help fund terrorist organisations including Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

Heroin laid out on HMAS Darwin's flight deck
Over 1 tonne of seized heroin laid out on HMAS Darwin's flight deck [Picture: Able Seaman Sarah Williams (Photographer), © Commonwealth of Australia]

Commodore Blunden said:

This is the sixth seizure of heroin by the Combined Maritime Forces since January and is by far the largest ever made by the organisation. It represents a significant blow to the drug smuggling networks.

We know that heroin trafficked into east Africa reaches the shores of the UK and Europe, which makes the success particularly satisfying for the UK officers and sailors serving in the task force.

Pinpointing a dhow in 2.4 million square miles of ocean is a real challenge. I am extremely proud of the efforts of my team and the Australian ship Darwin in bringing this particular case to a successful conclusion.

Hakan Demirbuken, Programme Management Officer at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, said:

According to records kept by the UN, the 1,032-kilogram haul not only represents the largest ever amount of heroin seized from dhows on the high seas, but also doubles the previous record which was also set by CTF 150 in 2013.

CTF 150 heroin seizures for 2014 already amount to 2,367 kilograms, surpassing the 2,044 kilograms of heroin seized by the task force in 2013.

The Royal Navy-led CTF 150 team in Bahrain carefully planned and co-ordinated the search and seizure operation with HMAS Darwin, using the Australian frigate’s high-tech surveillance capabilities and boarding team to locate and search the dhow.

Once the dhow was boarded, the Australian Navy team worked through the night in difficult conditions to find the hidden drugs in amongst a cargo of cement. The drugs were later destroyed.

Captain Craig Powell, Royal Australian Navy, CMF Director of Operations, said:

This latest interception is the largest heroin haul in the history of CMF. The success of this interdiction is testament to the highly effective interoperability of HMAS Darwin with the UK-led CTF 150 under the Combined Maritime Forces, and the professionalism of Darwin’s crew.

HMAS Darwin’s commanding officer, Commander Terry Morrison, added:

This is a major heroin seizure, which has removed a major source of funding from terrorist criminal networks. The search tested the steel of Darwin’s boarding parties who were working in difficult conditions throughout the night.

CTF 150 conducts maritime security operations in the Indian Ocean to deter terrorism and promote peace and security. It is one of 3 task forces operated by the CMF, a multinational naval partnership of 30 nations based in Bahrain.