SO many drugs have been seized since December by a Bahrain-based task force that the total value would almost wipe out the country’s national deficit.
Heroin and hashish with a street value of more $2.6 billion has been confiscated, almost as much as Bahrain’s budget deficit – estimated at around $3bn last year.
The drugs were seized at sea and were being smuggled to finance terrorist networks and other criminal activity, according to a senior Australian naval officer.
“We seized 36,000 tonnes of hashish and 3,100kg of heroin in the Western Indian Ocean,” said Royal Australian Navy Commodore Mal Wise, who has just stepped down from the task force’s lead role.
“We managed to remove millions of potential dollars used for funding by terrorist groups.”
Commodore Wise headed Combined Task Force (CTF) 150, which is an international naval coalition operating from Bahrain, since December. CTF 150 is engaged in counter-terrorism and maritime security operations covering an area of three million square miles, including the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, the Western Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Oman.
Leadership of the force was yesterday assumed by UK Royal Navy Commodore Steve Moorhouse, during a ceremony at the regional headquarters of the US Navy in Juffair.
Commodore Wise said a significant surge in drug production in Afghanistan was one reason for the massive quantity being smuggled.
“There is clearly an increase in production in Afghanistan, which is one of the cases,” Commodore Wise told the GDN.
This month alone the task force has seized millions of dollars worth of drugs during four raids on suspicious vessels.
Commodore Wise said the notorious “hash highway” from Afghanistan through the waters of the western Indian Ocean, as well as the “smack track” used to smuggle heroin from Afghanistan to Europe, via East Africa, remained popular among traffickers.
“The established trade routes in the Indian Ocean, also known as the hash highway and smack track, are well documented,” he said.
“We continue to see these two key routes where there is a flow (of heroin) into East African nations.”
Meanwhile, he said the rise in successful drug seizures corresponded with a UN forecast of increased production.
“The challenges are greater than ever because, according to 2018 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime forecast, there will be two fold increase in heroin production compared to 2015.”
“They( drug traffickers) are becoming creative and innovative because they want their products reach their markets.”
US Navy Fifth Fleet Commander, Vice Admiral Scott Stearney, attended yesterday’s handover ceremony.
He said the anti-drug smuggling operations of the past five months had been among the most successful in the history of the Bahrain-based Combined Maritime Forces (CMF), under which CTF 150 operates.
“For the past five months, CTF 150 – directing the HMAS Warramunga, Pakistani ship Aslat and French ships Jean de Vienne and La Fayette – has completed 39 boardings and 19 drug busts, interdicting over 36 tonnes of hashish and over three tonnes of heroin,” he added.
Those figures do not include two of the four seizures that have taken place this month.
“It is absolutely astonishing how great an impact Commodore Wise and his team have had on this region in just a relatively short time,” added Vice Admiral Stearney.
The latest figures obtained exclusively by the GDN show that 36,785kg of hashish and 3,139kg of heroin was confiscated since December.