HMAS WARRAMUNGA, currently operating as part of Combined Maritime Forces (CMF), has again successfully stopped drugs smugglers operating in international waters in the Arabian Sea. Under the command of the Australian-led Combined Task Force (CTF)150, Warramunga was conducting a combined patrol with Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) Fort Rosalie when a suspect dhow was located by Fort Rosalie’s helicopter then subsequently intercepted by Warramunga. It became evident that the dhow was without nationality and that the crew were possibly smuggling drugs. The ship’s boarding team was then authorised to conduct non-destructive searches of the suspect dhow and discovered more than 3.5 tonnes of illicit drugs during the night-time operation. The illicit drugs have been valued at more than $142 million USD, and takes Warramunga’s total seizures, since joining CMF in December 2017, to more than 11.5 tonnes of hashish and 69 kg of heroin, valued at approximately $468 million USD*.
Whilst alongside in Salalah for a New Year stand down RFA Fort Rosalie, with 849 Royal Naval Air Squadron (NAS) Normandy Flight embarked were informed of a possible drugs running vessel. Fort Rosalie made rapid preparations and sailed 48 hours early from her planned period alongside. On New Year’s Day, Fort Rosalie launched one of their Sea King Airborne Surveillance and Control (SKASac), Sea King Mk7 helicopters to search a large sea area though did not find the suspect vessel. Fort Rosalie then conducted a further helicopter sortie on the 2 January that found a single dhow acting suspiciously. Flying operations continued throughout the day with the helicopter gaining radar imagery, maintaining oversight of the suspicious dhow and coordinating with HMAS Warramunga so that the dhow could be intercepted.
The Flight Commander, Lieutenant Commander Dan Breward Royal Navy said: “We’re delighted to have been able to contribute to CTF 150’s missions within the joint operations area. There was a massive effort from all parties involved from both Fort Rosalie and, ultimately, Warramunga. As long as drugs and weapons continue to be trafficked to aid terrorism, we will be here with the coalition members to stop them; we have a track record that we aim to build upon.”
Australian Commander of CTF-150, Commodore Mal Wise, praised the close team work between Fort Rosalie and Warramunga and stated: “The RN SKASac was essential to locating the suspect vessel in the challenging maritime environment. This close cooperation assisted the crew of HMAS Warramunga in successfully seizing a substantial quantity of narcotics. This highlights the excellent teamwork from nations contributing to CMF operations in the Middle East, and has a significant impact on the flow of illegal narcotics that fund terrorist networks.”
This was Warramunga’s fourth seizure of narcotics since starting operations in the Middle East region in support of the Australian named Operation Manitou. Commanding Officer of Warramunga, Commander Dugald Clelland emphasised that the operation was the result of close coordination with Fort Rosalie in a complex night operation.
The Commander said “The RN helicopter was able to guide us to the suspect vessel that Warramunga’s boarding party searched at night, in difficult conditions. The boarding party did a first-rate job and was able to locate and seize more than three and a half tonnes of illegal narcotics.”
The Commanding Officer of Fort Rosalie stated “I am very proud of the part played by RFA Fort Rosalie in helping HMAS Warramunga take down this drug running dhow. Our embarked 849 Sqn SKASaCs helicopters were key in locating and tracking the dhow. This has been a good operational day and great start to the New Year for my ships company.”
In 2017, CMF ships have seized a total of 22.67 tonnes of narcotics. Boarding, search and seizure operations at sea require a persistent and methodical approach by CMF sailors and marines. It is challenging and painstaking work requiring the detailed investigation of every compartment and space throughout a suspect vessel. CMF works closely with partners such as the Maritime Shipping Industry, the European Union Naval Force and the UK Maritime Trade Organization to provide the security and stability that allows the free flow of commerce through the world’s most important trade routes to the global economy.
*This calculation is a based on the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission Illicit Drug Data Report 2015–16 figures for Cannabis Resin (Hashish) at $50 AUD /$39 USD per gram (p215) and Heroin at $300,000 AUD / $235,000 USD per kilogram (p 216).