MANAMA, Bahrain (NNS) -- In a four-month span, Combined Task Force (CTF) 150 of the Bahrain-based Combined Maritime Forces has proven itself a formidable force against narcotics trafficking, with 10 drug seizures totaling over 3,300 kilograms of heroin, cocaine, cannabis resin and hashish since March.
It started with the Royal Australian Navy frigate HMAS Arunta (FFH 151) on March 2, when the crew seized 800 kilograms of hashish, a drug made from cannabis. Eleven days later on March 13, the U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Laboon (DDG 58) seized 270 kilograms of heroin and then again on March 17, when the crew seized 500 kilograms of hashish. All seizures were from small stateless dhows in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations.
The French frigate FS Surcouf (F711) added to the list with seizures that collectively totaled nearly 400 kilograms of heroin from two dhows between April 28 and May 3.
On May 10, Arunta confiscated another 250 kilograms heroin from a small dhow. The U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Truxtun (DDG 103) and the U.S. Navy guided-missile cruiser USS Hue City (CG 66) seized another 12 kilograms of cocaine on May 16.
Led to another dhow by a Royal Danish Air Force maritime patrol aircraft operating in direct support of CTF 150, Surcouf then made another seizure of 116 kg of heroin on May 18.
On May 26, Royal Navy frigate HMS Monmouth (F235) seized 455 kilograms of cannabis resin and 266 kilograms of heroin. Two weeks later, on June 8, Arunta made another seizure of 280 kilograms of heroin. Collectively as a task force, coalition warships have seized 3,349 kilograms of illegal substances since March.
"Ultimately the continued successes of CTF 150 demonstrate the value of the multinational collective of like-minded nations that make up the Combined Maritime Forces and certify that when navies work together, all nations profit with increased maritime security," said Vice. Adm. Kevin Donegan, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command and the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF).
CTF 150 is one of three task forces under the CMF, and its mission is to promote maritime security in order to counter terrorist acts and related illegal activities which terrorists use to fund or conceal their movements. CTF 150 has been led by French Marine Nationale Rear Admiral Olivier Lebas since April, supported by a combined French-U.K. staff. Participation in CTF 150 is purely voluntary on the part of each of the CMF's 31 nations. Prior to Lebas, CTF 150 was led by Royal Canadian Navy Commodore Haydn Edmundson.
Vital to the detection of the drug smugglers in the vastness of the Indian Ocean are the coalition maritime patrol aircraft such as the French Marine Nationale F50, Royal Danish Air Force C604, Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3C, and UK Royal Navy Sea King helicopters operating from the fleet replenishment ship Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) Fort Victoria (A387). These aircraft provide support to CTF 150 through surveillance of the sea lanes and their ability to direct warships to the dhows suspected of trafficking narcotics. CMF officials estimate that a street value of over $300 million-worth of narcotics has been confiscated from March to May. The confiscation of such a large quantity of illicit drugs aims to prevent transnational terrorists and other extremist groups from profiting from the drug trade.
CTF 150 members take on added risk with these boardings due to dangerous nature of the organizations involved in the smuggling.
"Despite the arduous nature of boarding operations, successful seizures are rewarding for the highly trained and well-equipped boarding teams and crews of the CMF warships." stated Lebas.
Visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) is not a task which teams take lightly or with any sense of routine. The evolution of searching vessels for illegal cargo is a huge undertaking for the assigned crews.
"The times we conduct VBSS operations, whether they result in a successful seizure or not, are some of the most complex and dangerous evolutions that our sailors conduct on the high seas," said Edmundson, the previous CTF 150 commander.
Drugs, illegal weapons and everything in between are often hidden in unlikely places. In some instances, it can take days for a VBSS team to finish searching one vessel. On Monmouth's seizure on May 26, the team had searched the dhow for two days before finding the 721 kilogram drug stash, which was only found after first removing over 6,000 pounds of ice.
"After such a long search, I had doubts we would find anything," said Lt. Alison Ross, one of Monmouth's boarding officers. "The reactions of the crew in regards to our activity in certain areas were enough to convince us that there was illegal cargo. Eventually the breakthrough was made and we could bring the operation to a close, having successfully put a stop to the progress of the drugs."
In collaboration with international and regional maritime security partners, CTF 150 teams have seized and destroyed billions of dollars in drugs and captured thousands of weapons since its inception in 2002, ensuring they are no longer available to organizations that would cause others harm.
"This is the French navy's tenth time in command of CTF 150, and I am delighted by the successes that the CMF ships and aircraft operating in support of CTF 150 have enjoyed so far this time round. We will continue to work tirelessly to suppress terrorist activities by attacking the networks that fund them, and deter the unlawful use of the seas in this area of the world," said Lebas.
CMF is a 31-nation naval partnership which exists to promote security, stability and prosperity across approximately 3.2 million square miles of international waters, which encompass some of the world's most important shipping lanes. CMF's main focus areas are defeating terrorism, preventing piracy, encouraging regional cooperation, and promoting a safe maritime environment. CMF counters violent extremism and terrorist networks in maritime areas of responsibility; works with regional and other partners to improve overall security and stability; helps strengthen regional nations' maritime capabilities and, when requested, responds to environmental and humanitarian crises.
For more news from Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command/5th Fleet, visit www.navy.mil/local/cusnc/.
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