Dubai: United States Navy vessels seized 385 kilos (849 pounds) of heroin in the Arabian Sea worth some $4 million, in a major bust by the international maritime operation in the region, officials said on Thursday.
The USS Tempest and USS Typhoon seized the drugs hidden aboard a stateless fishing vessel plying Mideast waters, the international task force said in a statement. The seizure took place on Monday.
The Navy said the fishing vessel likely came from Iran. All nine crew members identified themselves as Iranian nationals, according to Cmdr. Timothy Hawkins, a spokesperson for the US Navy’s Mideast-based 5th Fleet.
He did not elaborate on who manufactured the drugs or their ultimate destination.
As the task force ramps up regional patrols, it has confiscated illegal drugs worth over $193 million during operations at sea this year — more than the amount of drugs seized in the last four years combined, its statement said.
Heroin is trafficked to the Middle East and even Europe by land from Iran and Afghanistan through well-worn land routes in the Balkans, Southern Caucasus mountains or Saudi Arabia, according to last year’s UN Global Synthetic Drugs Assessment. Smugglers from Iran have increasingly taken to sea to bring heroin into South Asia, the report added, with Iranian and Pakistani sailors often arrested near Sri Lanka.
Iran’s porous 1,923km-long (1195 mile-long) eastern border with Afghanistan, the world’s largest producer of opium, has turned it into a key transit country for the illicit drug trade.
Lebanese authorities, meanwhile, intercepted nine million pills of the recreational drug captagon inside a shipment of lemons, foiling an attempt to smuggle them to the Gulf, media reported.
Captagon - a mix of amphetamines also known as the “poor mans cocaine” - is one of the more popular recreational drugs among affluent youth in the Middle East.
“We want to send a message to the Arab world about our seriousness and our work to thwart evil from harming our Arab brothers,” Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi said as he inspected the shipment at Beirut.
In October, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain expelled Lebanese diplomats and recalled their own envoys following a Hezbollah-aligned minister’s critical comments on the Yemen war.
Riyadh also banned all imports from Lebanon. The United Arab Emirates recalled its envoys.
During their meeting this month, Gulf Cooperation Council leaders called on Lebanon to tighten border controls and take measures to deter drug smuggling via exports into Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.
Dubai police said last week that they had uncovered around $15.8 million worth of captagon pills, also hidden in a shipment of lemons, and arrested four suspects.