Gulf drug smugglers faked engine breakdown to try and hide £800k heroin haul from Royal Navy

DESPERATE drug smugglers faked an engine breakdown in a futile attempt to hide their £800,000 cache of narcotics from a Royal Navy boarding party, it can today be revealed.

By Tom Cotterill
Wednesday, 13th November 2019, 9:57 am
HMS Montrose pictured next to the dhow as a Royal Navy boarding party approaches. Photo: MoD/Chris Daly
HMS Montrose pictured next to the dhow as a Royal Navy boarding party approaches. Photo: MoD/Chris Daly

Gang members were busted with the massive haul of drugs in the Arabian Sea last month after being boarded by a team of sailors and Royal Marines from Gulf-based frigate, HMS Montrose.

As reported at the time, the navy managed to seize 95 kilograms of heroin and 75 kilograms of crystal methamphetamine in the raid.

Now those on the boarding party have spoken out for the first time about how floundering smugglers tried to lie their way out of trouble in a bid to stop their illicit cargo – destined for UK shores – from being discovered.

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Members of Montrose's ship's company pictured carrying drugs seized from a fishing vessel. Photo: Royal Navy/Chris Daly

Leading Engineering Technician (LET) Ricky Waterhouse was the second in command of the team as they stormed the small fishing dhow.

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The 33-year-old of Waterlooville – who spent 15 years in the British Army with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers before joining the navy – said the operation was a ‘huge adrenaline boost’.

Speaking of the smugglers, LET Waterhouse said: ‘They were very misleading. We had interpreters on board and they were saying to them “oh, that’s it now, you’ve caught us”. 

HMS Montrose's crew pictured with their haul of seized drugs. Photo: Royal Navy/Chris Daly

'Then we found the drugs in the steering gear. They faked a breakdown hoping that we would leave that compartment.

'But we knew it was a bit iffy that while we were searching the steering gear compartment there was a steering gear breakdown.

‘So that’s when we chose to go on with the search and found a large amount of narcotics.’

Leading Engineering Technician (LET) Ricky Waterhouse, 33, of Waterlooville, on HMS Montrose in the Gulf.

‘Mighty’ Montrose, which is currently forward-deployed in the Gulf, was part of the multinational Combined Task Force 150. The task force is part of the wider Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) group of 33 nations responsible for counter terrorism and counter narcotics in the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean.

The dhow was first spotted by a helicopter from French frigate FS Jean Bart. The French sent a boarding party to secure the vessel before being relieved by the team from Montrose, who conducted the search.

The British sailors spent hours meticulously checking known hiding spots and hunting for any clues that could point to new areas where drugs were stashed. 

Initially they made small finds in bulkheads around a cooker. But it was while searching around the steering gear compartment they made uncovered their biggest haul - two-thirds of the drugs.

LET Waterhouse, whose day job is to maintain Montrose’s gas turbine engines, said: ‘We laid it all out on our flight deck we were surprised at how much they could hide in such a small space.

‘It was scary really. They had a lot bigger spaces they could have hidden it in but they chose not to.’

Commander Ollie Hucker, commanding officer of HMS Montrose, described the operation as a ‘career highlight’ and praised all his crew for its effort.

The 37-year-old dad of two, formerly of Southsea, added: ‘Originally we weren’t tasked to be on that particular mission. We took over from one of the French ship, the Jean Bart.

‘When we managed to get our boarding team on board 179 packages just kept coming and kept coming all of them either with crystal meth or heroin. So it was a good day.’

In the past year, CMF warships have seized about two tonnes of heroin, more than 130 kilograms of crystal meth and almost 50 tonnes of hashish - all worth an estimated street value of $46m (£35.84m).

LET Waterhouse added: ‘That’s £35m worth of drugs that won’t get to the streets of Europe and the UK so that gives us a real lift.’