HMAS Toowoomba intercepts drugs off coast of Africa

Published on Department of Defence (author), LSIS James Whittle (photographer)

Location(s): Indian Ocean

5.6 tonnes of cannabis resin, intercepted from a dhow in the Middle East Region, is counted on the flight deck of HMAS Toowoomba during Operation Manitou.  (photo: LSIS James Whittle)
5.6 tonnes of cannabis resin, intercepted from a dhow in the Middle East Region, is counted on the flight deck of HMAS Toowoomba during Operation Manitou.

A combined Australian and New Zealand operation conducted 260 km off the coast of Africa has seized more than 5.6 tonnes of cannabis resin, worth an estimated $280 million (AUD).

The five day operation involved the Royal Australian Navy frigate HMAS Toowoomba and a Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3K2 Orion, which was called to assist in bad weather.

During an exhaustive search this week, the Australian boarding party discovered cannabis resin in hessian bags stowed in a hidden compartment on the dhow.

HMAS Toowoomba is deployed to the Middle East Region as part of Operation MANITOU, on patrol as part of the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) and the Pakistan-led Combined Task Force (CTF) 150.

Able Seaman Electronics Technician Rhys Clarke passes Able Seaman Clearance Diver Matthew Brooke a 21kg bag of cannabis resin, taken from a dhow, during boarding operations in support of Operation Manitou.

Able Seaman Electronics Technician Rhys Clarke passes Able Seaman Clearance Diver Matthew Brooke a 21kg bag of cannabis resin, taken from a dhow, during boarding operations in support of Operation Manitou.

Commanding Officer, Commander Cath Hayes said this significant drug interdiction was a result of close teamwork between Toowoomba and Australia’s international partners in the Combined Maritime Forces.

“I am proud of the tenacity and hard work displayed by the Toowoomba team to intercept and board the dhow in challenging weather conditions, before executing an extensive search of the vessel to locate the elaborately concealed drugs,” she said.

“This is a great result for the Ship and our Pakistan Navy colleagues at Combined Task Force 150 who lead the operation.”

This is the first successful counter-narcotics interdiction operation for Combined Task Force 150 since the Pakistan Navy took command of the maritime security and counter-terrorism mission on 14 August 2014.

Toowoomba’s boarding officer, Lieutenant Stefan Stuart, said the drugs were well hidden and, once found, were extremely difficult to access and remove.

“It is great to make an intercept of this magnitude, the weather was not on our side but our training and our persistence paid off,” he said

“Knowing that you are putting a crimp in the finances of terrorist organisations is a great feeling and will pay dividends for direct counter terrorism efforts elsewhere.”

Lieutenant Stefan Stuart cuts into the lower deck of a dhow as Leading Seaman Marine Technician Gregory Gonzalez hauls up suspect bags (later confirmed to be cannabis resin), while conducting boarding operations while on Operation Manitou.

Lieutenant Stefan Stuart cuts into the lower deck of a dhow as Leading Seaman Marine Technician Gregory Gonzalez hauls up suspect bags (later confirmed to be cannabis resin), while conducting boarding operations while on Operation Manitou.

Operation MANITOU is Australia’s commitment to the CMF. The operation is part of a determined multi-national campaign to disrupt drug smuggling in the Indian Ocean, where profits are known to provide funding for terrorist organisations, including Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

The CMF is working to defeat terrorism, prevent piracy, encourage regional engagement, reduce illegal trafficking of people and drugs and promote the maritime environment as a safe place for mariners with legitimate business.

CTF 150 is responsible for enforcing maritime security in the Middle East and Indian Ocean regions to counter terrorist acts and related illegal activities, which terrorists use to fund or conceal their movements.

Lieutenant Commander Antony Pisani, Executive Officer HMAS Toowoomba, hands over a 20kg bag of cannabis resin for accounting and tagging to Chief Petty Officer Naval Police Coxswain Rachelle Burnett.

Lieutenant Commander Antony Pisani, Executive Officer HMAS Toowoomba, hands over a 20kg bag of cannabis resin for accounting and tagging to Chief Petty Officer Naval Police Coxswain Rachelle Burnett.

More Imagery is available at: http://images.defence.gov.au/S20142834