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News | July 16, 2008

Coalition ships intercept drug vessels

By None , Royal Navy

A team from HMS Chatham boards a dhow found to be carrying drugs. (Royal Navy Photo)
A team from HMS Chatham boards a dhow found to be carrying drugs. (Royal Navy Photo)

BAHRAIN (July 15, 2008) — Coalition warships operating in the Gulf region have seized 23 tons of narcotics, which could have been used to fund the insurgency in Afghanistan.

The British warships involved were frigates HMS Chatham and HMS Montrose, and the destroyer HMS Edinburgh. They were supported by the Royal Fleet Auxiliary helicopter support ship Argus and her embarked Sea King aircraft.Sailors and Royal Marines from the ships discovered hidden drugs in vessels along the so-called "Hash Highway," and often operated in the most unpleasant of conditions. The narcotics they seized included hashish, opiates, cocaine and amphetamines.

"The scourge of illegal drugs is one of the gravest threats to the long term security of Afghanistan, and a vital source of funding for the Taliban warlords who seek violence against Afghan, British and NATO forces. Our mission in Afghanistan is one of absolute importance and by seizing these drugs we have dealt a significant blow to the illegal trade," said Commodore Keith Winstanley, commander of Royal Navfy forces in the region, speaking from the Combined Maritime Forces headquarters in Bahrain. "News of these successes has been kept quiet for operational reasons, but I am delighted that the tremendous efforts can now be recognised."

Winstanley stressed the Coalition aspect of the counter-drugs operations, pointing out that tactical command at sea had been under the auspices of Pakistani, French and Canadian Task Force Commanders.

Martin Connel, commanding officer of HMS Chatham, said, "This is a really positive result for HMS Chatham, but is in fact routine business for us. We managed to locate the vessel and then conduct a very unpleasant boarding in demanding conditions. My sailors and marines did an outstanding job in managing to locate six tons of illegal narcotics plus other significant intelligence."

By some estimates hashish accounts for half the profits from the drug trade in the region. The United Nations World Drug Report estimates that drug addiction rates have almost tripled in the Arab world.

"Boarding operations are always quite physical and arduous tasks but this particular boarding displayed the determination and professionalism of my team in an excellent light. We all worked hard to achieve the aim of securing, searching and collecting evidence from a vessel crawling with cockroaches and rats in the extreme heat of the Gulf," said Lt. Joanne Cave, the HMS Chatham Warfare Officer who led the initial phase of the boarding.

"The success of the deployed Boarding Teams and the concurrent activity from HMS Chatham herself just goes to prove how versatile and capable the ship’s boarding assets are. The support of the boats’ crews and flight were also vital to the smooth running of the operation. To say that we have made a small effort towards stopping the trafficking of illegal drugs is a rewarding experience and one that I would gladly participate in again," Cave said.

"We realised something wasn’t right when the crew said they had been fishing for five days but there were only a handful of fish in the freezer. The helicopter crew had also told us that the dhow’s crew had been ditching bails out the back as we approached," said Lt. Tom Philips, one of the boarding officers involved. "However, around 35 of us were involved in the operation, supported by the main ship’s company of 250 in HMS Chatham. We were working in pretty horrible conditions. When you are crawling through tight compartments in 50 degree heat and surrounded by rats and cockroaches, you have to remain pretty focused. However, we had a job to do and everyone carried out their duties with the utmost professionalism; ultimately, the result was more than worth it."

Seizures by Coalition naval forces over the past five months total 30 tons, over 70 percent of which (23 tons) were due to Royal Navy interceptions.