Arabian Sea Naval Patrols Increase Narcotics Seizures

An MH-60R Seahawk helicopter and US Coast Guard
An MH-60R Seahawk helicopter and US Coast Guard interdiction forces, all operating from the US Navy Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Momsen, surround a fishing vessel in the Gulf of Oman in May 2022. The vessel was carrying narcotics worth $39 million. (US Navy)

Multinational naval forces operating in and around the Gulf are increasing seizures of narcotics, notably in the Gulf of Oman and Arabian Sea.

The increase is linked to greater naval presence in the region, both from national naval forces and from forces operating in support of the US Navy (USN)-led Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) task forces.

Within these task forces, Combined Task Force (CTF)-150 – which delivers maritime security in the Gulf of Oman, Arabian Sea, western Indian Ocean, and part of the Gulf of Aden – is having particular impact.

This was demonstrated in mid-May, when the USN Flight IIA DDG 51 guided-missile destroyer USS Momsen, embarking a US Coast Guard interdiction team and an Sikorsky MH-60 Romeo Seahawk helicopter from Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 35, seized $39 million in methamphetamine narcotics from a fishing vessel sailing in the Gulf of Oman. The narcotics were discovered during a flag verification boarding operation, the USN’s Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) public affairs office said.

“The vessel was interdicted while transiting international waters along a route historically used by criminal organisations to smuggle people, weapons, narcotics, and charcoal. Crew members attempted to discard more than 60 bales of the drugs as Momsen approached,” NAVCENT added.

Such operations reflect a wider focus on and effectiveness of multinational counter-narcotics operations in the region. According to CMF, more narcotics were seized in the Gulf of Oman and Arabian Sea in 2021 than in the previous four years combined. This effectiveness has been generated not only by ships operating in direct support of CTF-150, but also by ships supporting national tasking in these waters.

According to the NAVCENT, CTF-150 ships have conducted nine successful narcotics seizures to date in 2022.

A prominent example of a ship operating in support of both national and multinational tasking is the UK Royal Navy Type 23 frigate HMS Montrose, which is forward deployed to the region. In May, with a boarding team from 42 Commando Royal Marines embarked, the ship seized $2.24m of heroin from a dhow sailing in the Gulf of Oman. This was Montrose’s fourth seizure in 2022, in support of CMF operations.

by Dr. Lee Willett