HMAS Melbourne has seized another 151 kilograms of heroin, worth an estimated $AUD44.5 million, from a dhow off the east coast of Africa.
The drug haul is the second for HMAS Melbourne’s current deployment to the Middle East region, bringing the total weight of heroin seized to more 578 kilograms in two months.
Commander Joint Operations Command, Vice Admiral David Johnston, said the haul raised the Royal Australian Navy’s 2015 drug seizures in the region to almost $600 million.
“Australia continues its substantial contribution to the disruption of the narcotics trade in the Middle East region with over $1.46 billion in drug seizures during 2014 and 2015," he said.
HMAS Melbourne’s Commanding Officer, Commander Bill Waters, said the ship’s crew boarded a suspicious fishing vessel following surveillance which suggested the dhow might be engaged in illegal activity.
“Interviews with the dhow’s crew raised suspicion that it could be involved in the smuggling of illegal narcotics,” Commander Waters said.
“The smugglers had gone to considerable efforts to conceal the drugs.
“On first inspection there were no obvious signs of smuggling, however, our boarding teams are trained to a very high standard and with determination and diligence we were able to locate and extract the narcotics from hidden compartments within the vessel.”
The Combined Maritime Forces based in Bahrain approved the vessel’s search. The heroin was transferred to HMAS Melbourne’s flight deck for testing and confirmation.
Commander Waters said the seizure significantly curtailed the funding of terrorism in the region.
“We are not only stopping the drugs from reaching communities we are also restricting the funding for international terrorism which comes from the illegal trade of these types of narcotics,” he said.
HMAS Melbourne is on her eighth deployment to the Middle East as part of Operation MANITOU, the Australian contribution to regional Maritime Security Operations.
She is the 61st rotation of a Royal Australian Navy vessel in the region since the first Gulf War in 1991.
Melbourne is operating within Combined Task Force 150 which is one of three principal task forces operated by the 30-nation coalition based in Bahrain.
Imagery is available on the Navy Image Library at http://images.navy.gov.au/S20153453.