Royal Navy: Drug-busting task force involving HMS Lancaster seize £161m of narcotics from terrorist gangs

Huge amounts of drugs have been captured by the Royal Navy in its bid to disrupt criminal gangs.
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Twenty-two tonnes of illegal narcotics have been seized by warships of the international Combined Task Force 150. Portsmouth-based frigate HMS Lancaster was among the ships involved in 14 successful drug busts – taking at least £161m away from criminal and terrorist gangs.

Hauls of hashish, heroin, methamphetamine and captagon (fenethylline) tablets have all ended up on the bottom of the Indian Ocean. The task force – operating largely in the Gulf region – involved ships from the US and French Navies, and the US Coast Guard.

The staff of CTF150 with CO Cdre Byron behind the Peribuoy on the left. The task force has seized at least £161m worth of drugs in the Gulf.The staff of CTF150 with CO Cdre Byron behind the Peribuoy on the left. The task force has seized at least £161m worth of drugs in the Gulf.
The staff of CTF150 with CO Cdre Byron behind the Peribuoy on the left. The task force has seized at least £161m worth of drugs in the Gulf.
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Vessels from Pakistan, India and Italy supported the task force, which covered more than three million square miles of the Indian Ocean from the Gulf of Oman to Madagascar and the Mozambique Channel in the south. Royal Navy staff directed the task force from Bahrain, while being supported by the Italian and Royal New Zealand Navies, and the Royal Air Force.

Led by Captain James Byron, they formally handed over responsibility for the mission to the French Navy, six months and one day after taking the helm. He said his team had observed a dramatic increase in more damaging and addictive drugs being trafficked in the region – around seven tonnes of the total haul has been heroin and methamphetamine.

"Putting good people next to bad people to stop them doing bad things has been our calling card”, CO Cdre Byron added – who has now completed his sixth tour of duty in Bahrain. “This has been without doubt the most fulfilling of my recent deployments to Bahrain, working alongside superbly talented and motivated individuals, my very own ‘little pack of gundogs’ have been determined to sniff out illegal narcotics and stop this vile trade.

"My favourite moment of the deployment has got to have been working with Norton, the narcotics sniffer dog – and as I go home to my family and my own spaniels, I do so knowing we have done a great job, with heads held high.” More than £10m of narcotics was captured by HMS Lancaster’s crew last month.

USCG John Scheurman and an intercepted drugs dhow. Picture; Royal NavyUSCG John Scheurman and an intercepted drugs dhow. Picture; Royal Navy
USCG John Scheurman and an intercepted drugs dhow. Picture; Royal Navy
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The Type 23 frigate confiscated over seven tons of heroin and methamphetamine across two operations in the Indian Ocean. They boarded two ships within 12 hours.

A large bundle of cannabis was also seized in May, days after sailors help evacuate civilians from Sudan. Lieutenant Rachel Cox said: “I have had an incredible six months deployed in Bahrain.

"I have learned so much from the amazing team and working with our international partners has been an opportunity I’ll never forget. A highlight for me was accompanying Captain Byron to the Seychelles and seeing first-hand the impact that our counter-narcotics operations have on their communities.”

The staff of CTF 150 with CO Cdre Byron back left. Picture: Royal NavyThe staff of CTF 150 with CO Cdre Byron back left. Picture: Royal Navy
The staff of CTF 150 with CO Cdre Byron back left. Picture: Royal Navy

Although command now passes to the French under Captain Yannick Bossu, the UK connection continues, with four Royal Navy personnel assigned to his staff. CO Cdre Byron added: “The CTF 150 baton may have passed over, but the hard work to counter terrorism and the scourge of drugs will continue in good hands.

"Everyone in the UK team wishes our counterparts the very best of luck for their six months ‘at the wheel’.”