Royal Navy: HMS Lancaster seizes more than £10million of drugs after boarding two ships within 12 hours

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A Portsmouth-based Royal Navy warship has seized more than £10m of narcotics after Royal Marines boarded two ships in the Indian ocean and Gulf within 12 hours.

Over the weekend, HMS Lancaster carried out searches on two suspect boats in the space of 12 hours and also worked closely with the US Navy to support a merchant vessel reporting harassment. The Type 23 frigate captured more than seven tons of hashish, heroin and methamphetamine across two operations in the Indian Ocean while on a security patrol of the region where she is deployed on a long-term mission.

In the first call as part of a dawn mission, the ship’s specialist Royal Marines boarding team found 3.5 tons of narcotics after tracking down a suspect vessel since the early hours of the morning. That evening, the ship’s Wildcat helicopter spotted another craft and the boarding team sprang into action once more to seize a further 3.7 tons and complete the impressive double haul. These latest captures come after Lancaster seized hashish worth £2.5m last month.

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Commander Tom Johnson, the ship’s Commanding Officer, said: ‘I am immensely proud of my entire team for their efforts in successfully executing two boardings, in challenging conditions, and inside of 12 hours.

‘This comes less than a day after concluding an intense period of maritime security operations in the Straits of Hormuz. It was a real team success; bringing together the efforts of my team with those of a vast range of international support organisations who have all worked tirelessly to achieve this result.’

After the first drugs bust, samples were taken and the drugs, with a UK wholesale value of £5.5m, were destroyed. During the boarding operation there were indications the vessel had started its journey from the Iranian coast, before embarking the drugs at sea from another vessel.

With one successful seizure complete, it was not long before Lancaster was called upon again – this time with her embarked Wildcat helicopter spotting the suspect boat. The Wildcat was patrolling surrounding seas acting as the ship’s eyes when they called in suspicious activity. The helicopter is one of many tools Lancaster can use while conducting operations at sea and they can relay real-time information back to the ship’s control centre for the Commanding Officer to make decisions.

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The Portsmouth-based frigate working with a Royal Marines boarding team seized more than £10m worth of drugsThe Portsmouth-based frigate working with a Royal Marines boarding team seized more than £10m worth of drugs
The Portsmouth-based frigate working with a Royal Marines boarding team seized more than £10m worth of drugs

As the sun set over the Indian Ocean, the frigate’s boarding team, having only just reset from the previous boarding, sprang into action to do it all again. A large quantity of packages were found on the suspect vessel and were confirmed to be hashish. A total of 376 bags were recovered, weighing 3.7 tons and with a UK wholesale value of just over £4m. The second haul means HMS Lancaster has now prevented 10.4 tons of illegal narcotics from reaching the streets this year.

Deputy UK Maritime Component Commander in Bahrain, Captain Will Paston, added: ‘The technical expertise, tactical proficiency, steadfast professionalism, and investigative thoroughness were evident throughout the entire boarding process.

“These seizures were a direct result of the countless hours of dedication by HMS Lancaster and the wider supporting team in Bahrain.’

The Royal Navy warship seized more than £10m of narcoticsThe Royal Navy warship seized more than £10m of narcotics
The Royal Navy warship seized more than £10m of narcotics

Lancaster later worked closely with aircraft from the US Navy to provide overwatch for a merchant vessel, which reported harassment by a number of small vessels. Lancaster’s crew launched their Wildcat helicopter to assess the situation and provide a real time feed to the ship’s Commanding Officer. The small craft dispersed and the merchant vessel was able to continue on its way.

The ship is part of the UK’s enduring presence in the Middle East and is on a three-year mission to work with allies to support maritime security and to counter illegal activity.