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Five-star performance from UK-led Middle East task force seizing £57m drugs

24 May 2023
A Royal Navy-led task force has delivered five blows to Middle East drug runners in a month – destroying illegal narcotics worth £57m.

A French warship struck four times in a run of successful operations in the Indian Ocean which saw 2.2 tonnes of heroin seized, plus ¼ tonne of methamphetamine.

Spread over four weeks, the interceptions of drugs worth £54½m on the UK wholesale market, come on top of a £2½m hashish bust by HMS Lancaster a fortnight ago.

All the busts have been directed by Combined Task Force 150 (CTF 150), a Combined Maritime Forces task force of some of the three-dozen-plus nations committed to security and stability in the Gulf region.

Commanded by the Royal Navy’s Captain James Byron and his staff based in Bahrain since January, CTF 150’s counter-smuggling/drugs trafficking remit, covering more than two million square miles of ocean, extending as far south as the Seychelles.

The French frigate’s string of successes began in mid-April when the ship intercepted a dhow carrying 507kg of heroin (£11.1m). She struck again within 24 hours (429kg of heroin, 242kg of methamphetamine – £14.3m).

A fortnight passed before haul no.3 from a vessel (615kg of heroin, £13.5m) and recently yet another suspect dhow with the largest seizure so far: 714kg of heroin, £15.7m.

Throughout, the French board and search teams were helped by a specially-trained drugs dog to root out hidden stashes.

“It’s been a pleasure working with the sailors from Marine Nationale – I was particularly excited to be working with this team to achieve our mission’s aims together, especially due to my half French heritage!” said Lieutenant Francis Henry, one of the CTF150 staff in Bahrain overseeing the drugs busts.

“Their professionalism throughout was second to none and led to multiple successful interdictions, and I look forward to working with them again in the future.”

It’s been a pleasure working with the sailors from Marine Nationale – I was particularly excited to be working with this team to achieve our mission’s aims together, especially due to my half French heritage!

Lieutenant Francis Henry

Captain Byron said it had taken a concerted effort to bring about one of the most successful periods in the history of the task force which has been operating more than 20 years.

“This has become our calling card over the past four months – putting good people, next to bad people, to stop them doing bad things.

“This period of focussed operations at the southern tip of our patch, working in lockstep with our French brothers-in-arms has been particularly successful. Together, we have made a real dent in the international criminal trade in drugs which could have been destined for our home shores.”

The French frigate has now completed her assignment working for the task group.

Captain Byron continued: “The French sailors have been an absolute pleasure to work with and I wish the whole Crew, including the essential furry, four-legged one, safe passage home and look forward to any opportunity to work with them again in the future.

“The illegal narcotics trade is a scourge on all our societies – and I am proud, along with the rest of my team, our friends in the French Navy and the whole of Combined Maritime Forces, to be doing everything we can to stand against it.”

This is the eleventh time the Royal Navy have taken command of the task force, tasking international warships and aircraft to patrol the Indian Ocean and waters of the Middle East to deter terrorism and illicit activities which support it, such as drugs smuggling.

Since 2021, CMF has interdicted over $1 billion worth of illicit narcotics during maritime patrols. CMF is the largest international naval partnership in the world consisting of 38 member-nations and partners.

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