News story

Royal Navy warship in Middle East drugs bust

HMS Northumberland has intercepted 2 drug-smuggling skiffs carrying an estimated £5.4 million of cannabis resin in the Gulf of Oman.

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A boarding team from HMS Northumberland apprehends the drug smugglers [Picture: Leading Airman (Photographer) Maxine Davies, Crown copyright]
A boarding team from HMS Northumberland apprehends the drug smugglers

Having identified the suspicious high-speed skiffs during a routine patrol, the Plymouth-based frigate embarked on a 30-mile pursuit and intercepted the skiffs with her Merlin helicopter and combined Royal Navy and Royal Marines boarding teams.

A boarding team from HMS Northumberland speeds away
A boarding team from HMS Northumberland speeds away in pursuit of the smugglers' skiffs [Picture: Leading Airman (Photographer) Maxine Davies, Crown copyright]

Whilst in pursuit of the smugglers the boarding teams witnessed approximately 60 bales being thrown overboard. Seven of the bales were subsequently recovered by HMS Northumberland’s sea boat and Merlin helicopter and were found to contain pure cannabis resin.

Almost 1,500 kilograms were thrown overboard and it is estimated that the skiffs’ total cargo of drugs could have had a street value of around £5.4 million.

A smuggler prepares to throw a bale of cannabis resin overboard
A smuggler prepares to throw a bale of cannabis resin overboard as the Royal Navy closes in [Picture: Leading Airman (Photographer) Maxine Davies, Crown copyright]

Commander Johnny Ley, Staff Operations Officer in the UK Maritime Component Command, said:

The air in the operations room here as we followed Northumberland’s pursuit in real time was electric. When the skiffs were intercepted there was a buzz and a real sense of a job well done.

HMS Northumberland is operating under the banner of Combined Task Force 150, 1 of 3 task forces co-ordinated by the international Combined Maritime Forces with the aim of defeating terrorism, preventing piracy, stopping the illegal trafficking of people and drugs, and promoting the maritime environment as a safe place for mariners with legitimate business.

View of one of the skiffs from HMS Northumberland's Merlin helicopter
This view of one of the skiffs from HMS Northumberland's Merlin helicopter shows the large number of drug bales being transported before many were thrown into the sea by the smugglers ahead of their capture [Picture: Leading Airman (Photographer) Maxine Davies, Crown copyright]

Commodore Simon Ancona, the UK’s Maritime Component Commander, said:

The Royal Navy are out in the Middle East, on patrol, looking for pirates, drug runners and terrorists 24/7, 365-days-a-year. This success underlines the enduring UK focus on stability and security in this vital region and it’s what the Royal Navy does when it’s on the beat.

HMS Northumberland will continue to conduct counter-piracy and counter-narcotics operations in the Indian Ocean and is due to return to the UK in May, after almost 8 months away.

HMS Northumberland intercepts 2 high-speed drug-smuggling skiffs in the Gulf of Oman

Published 19 March 2013