Drug smugglers all at sea in Navy pursuit | Daily News


 

Biggest haul of narcotics netted 600 Nautical Miles away:

Drug smugglers all at sea in Navy pursuit

Navy Commander Vice Admiral Piyal De Silva speaking  to the press. Pictures by Gayan Pushpika
Navy Commander Vice Admiral Piyal De Silva speaking to the press. Pictures by Gayan Pushpika

The Navy ventured into the deep blue seas off the Northern coast to capture rogue LTTE “floating armoury” vessels more than 10 years ago, becoming a “Blue Water Navy” for the first time. Times have changed and so has the enemy. The LTTE is gone and in their place, in the Navy’s crosshairs, are the global narcotics smuggling rings. Given that Sri Lanka’s sea area is 23 times larger than its lands area, keeping them at bay is no easy task.

Just this week, the Navy once again found itself far from home – 600 Nautical Miles away in fact, as it successfully chased several “fishing” vessels suspected to be running drugs. This massive operation netted a haul of heroin and crystal methamphetamine, commonly known as ‘ICE’, worth approximately Rs. 6,000 million along with the suspects and their fishing vessels. The suspects, the contraband and the boats were brought to the Dikovita fisheries harbour on Thursday morning.

The operation to detect and seize these vessels carrying this load of drugs to the country was based on intelligence information received from the Police Narcotic Bureau (PNB). Accordingly, the Navy deployed two of their Offshore Patrol Vessels ‘Samudura’ and ‘Sayurala’ on this mission which took around 25 days. Commenting on this naval operation, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said it was meticulously planned stage by stage, while maintaining full secrecy.

Drug-busting operation

Navy Commander Vice Admiral Piyal De Silva said the Navy and Police Narcotics Bureau conducted a very successful drug-busting operation over the past 25 days which was a resounding success. During this drug-bust in the high seas they managed to seize around 400 Kg of heroin and almost 100 Kg of ICE. This is the first time that such a haul of drugs has been seized in a single operation.

“We have not detected or seized such a large quantity of ICE before this instance. The drug menace is a huge threat to the country and it is frightening that there is such a huge demand for narcotics in this country. The entire country is at risk due to the drug menace and schoolchildren, university students and those employed in the technical field are found to be addicted to drugs. Therefore, it is vital that all should cooperate and come together to fight this drug menace which is posing a huge threat to the country both economically and socially,” the Navy Commander said.

As a result of the operation, the two Sri Lankan fishing vessels with over 75 kilograms of drugs believed to be heroin and 66 kilograms of ICE was intercepted in the Southern seas and four suspects were arrested by the Navy. The Navy had also received the assistance of other countries in the region for surveillance and based on information gathered using the latest technology the Navy had detected a fishing vessel suspiciously loitering in the high seas.

Upon inspection of this vessel a stock of drugs was detected and based on information gathered by interrogating those onboard the first vessel, details were obtained regarding a second vessel. Both vessels were without Flag State in the high seas and they were intercepted after a four day mission. As a result the Navy found 329 packages believed to be heroin and another 50 packets believed to be ICE onboard these two vessels which weighed around 400 Kg (heroin) and 100 Kg (ICE).

The general rule, under both treaty law and customary international law, is that a ship sailing on the high seas, and flying the flag of one State, is subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of that State. The principle of exclusive flag-state jurisdiction and its correlative principle of freedom of navigation on the high seas have a long legal history which had developed over the course of several centuries through state practice, which has been accepted as legally binding. However, when asked if this law would apply in the case of this detection by the Navy in the open seas, a high ranking Navy officer said that as these ships were not flying the flag of any country, the Sri Lankan Navy has the authority to board these vessels and search them.

The Navy Commander noted that during operations carried out over the past 14 months the Navy with the assistance of the Police and military had seized around 1,162 Kg (more than one ton) of drugs. In addition the Navy had also seized over 5,000 Kg of Cannabis (over five tons) during this period. “However, we cannot think that we have detected all the drugs coming into the country and it is obvious that some of the drugs escape our operations and enter the country. However, through the detections we have made so far, it is frightening to think how much of drugs is being consumed in our country.”

National security and the drug menace

The Navy Commander thanked President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, the State Defence Minister, Defence Secretary and the members of the National Security Council (NSC) for their support and encouragement in carrying out these drug-busting operations. He noted that the NSC meetings take place every Tuesday and priority is given to national security and the drug menace affecting the country.

He also warned the fishing communities not to get lured into this drug racket as eventually they gain nothing and will have to spend the rest of their lives in jail. “Not only intelligence information, we also utilize modern technology in these drug operations. We also receive international assistance and we can detect and pinpoint the location of even a small vessel out at sea using this technology. Therefore, by getting involved in these drug operations, eventually your families will have to suffer.”

In a word of advice for parents, the Navy Commander urged all parents to keep a close eye on their children’s activities and behaviour. “If not the future of your children could be destroyed. These drugs have penetrated the schools and your children could be lured into this habit.”

Meanwhile, addressing the media the Deputy Inspector General of Police, PNB, Sanjeewa Medawatte said prior to this instance the police had seized 294 Kg and 928 Kg of Cocaine. “This is a huge problem as this 500 Kg which enters the country is then mixed and turned into around 3,500 Kg which is distributed around the country. Just imagine what happens to the families and students who consume such amounts of drugs. As a country the biggest issue facing us is the drug menace. The Tri-Forces and Police are committed to eradicating this drug scourge from this country and they are working tirelessly towards this aim. The PNB cannot carry out these operations at sea and the Navy renders a huge support in these anti-drug operations at sea. The media too have a major role to play in addressing this drug menace,” he added.

It is also believed that some drug racketeers who are currently in prison had directed this drug racket and investigations are underway to identify those involved. ICE is a relatively new drug to Sri Lanka and its street value is believed to be around Rs. 1.2 million a kilo. Further the drug operations in the country had been found to be a Rs. 18 billion business. Hence, eradicating it is definitely no easy task. Therefore, the Navy Commander said this drug scourge could be defeated and eradicated only through the combined efforts of all three Forces and the police. Public tip-offs and cooperation are also vital.

Meanwhile, the Police Narcotic Bureau will be conducting further investigations into the 16 foreign nationals who were arrested during this operation along with the five local suspects, vessels and drugs seized during this operation. The 21 foreign and local suspects were produced before court on Thursday and detention orders were obtained to detain the suspects for a period of seven days for interrogation, DIG Medawatte said.

 


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