Royal Navy’s cannabis bust must be seen in context

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Some might argue that throwing the weight of the Royal Navy at three small cannabis fields on a Caribbean island is akin to cracking a nut with an extremely large sledgehammer.

The Portsmouth-based frigate HMS Lancaster, on patrol in the north Atlantic and Caribbean, was enlisted by the Royal Anguilla Police Force during a visit to the island.

Its Lynx helicopter was used to spot three cannabis plantations. Hundreds of plants were seized and then destroyed on a bonfire.

Yes, cannabis. Not cocaine or heroin which are usually at the centre of Royal Navy drug busts.

But no matter what the illegal substance, the involvement of the navy in operations of this kind is important for two reasons.

The first is that at a time of savage defence cuts the senior service needs to be seen to be doing something tangible, something with which the British public can associate.

Secondly, and more importantly, raids such as this are vital in training ships’ companies for seizing bigger and more lethal consignments of narcotics, the proceeds of which fund terrorist organisations.

The sea lanes are an important route for terrorist organisations to ship their personnel, weapons and illegal shipments which pay for many of their activities.

In the past 13 years Royal Navy warships have conducted counter-terrorist missions all over the globe – from monitoring vessels to boarding suspicious ships.

It has scored some notable successes on the so-called Hashish Highway in the Indian Ocean, seizing drugs hidden in dhows to the tune of millions of pounds.

It is estimated that 90 per cent of all drugs produced in Afghanistan are eventually transported by sea – and the money raised helps fund the insurgency there.

And 90 per cent of the heroin from Afghanistan which reaches the UK travels on this route.

So, before you dismiss the HMS Lancaster raid against a trio of marijuana plots as trifling and a waste of taxpayers’ money, it is worth considering the wider, global picture in which the sailors and ships are operating.