Royal Navy pilots praised for help in £105m drugs bust

Petty Officer Electronics Technician Leslie Floyd numbers parcels of seized narcotics as HMAS Warramunga's boarding team conduct an illicit cargo seizure. 20180102
Petty Officer Electronics Technician Leslie Floyd numbers parcels of seized narcotics as HMAS Warramunga's boarding team conduct an illicit cargo seizure. 20180102
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NAVAL pilots have been commended for their work in a £105m drug bust in the Indian Ocean which dealt a huge blow to the funding for terror groups.

Fliers from 849 Naval Air Squadron helped guide Australian frigate HMAS Warramunga to the 3.5-tonne haul of hashish earlier this week.

Able Seaman Combat Systems Operator Shamira Altschwager (right) passes a parcel of seized narcotics to Leading Seaman Marine Technician James Phillips as HMAS Warramunga's boarding party conduct an illicit cargo seizure during operations in the Middle East. 20180102

Able Seaman Combat Systems Operator Shamira Altschwager (right) passes a parcel of seized narcotics to Leading Seaman Marine Technician James Phillips as HMAS Warramunga's boarding party conduct an illicit cargo seizure during operations in the Middle East. 20180102

The helicopter crew spent two days hunting for drug smugglers before they spotted a suspicious dhow in the ocean.

All the drama began shortly before New Year.

The Sea Kings and their overseas home, British support ship RFA Fort Rosalie, had been enjoying a festive season break in Salalah in Oman.

An alert of a possible drugs runner in the area came through to the team, prompting them to sail two days earlier than planned to join the hunt.

Parcels of seized narcotics lay on the deck of a smuggling vessel as HMAS Warramunga's boarding team conduct an illicit cargo seizure during operations in the Middle East. Picture: Commonwealth of Australia 20180102

Parcels of seized narcotics lay on the deck of a smuggling vessel as HMAS Warramunga's boarding team conduct an illicit cargo seizure during operations in the Middle East. Picture: Commonwealth of Australia 20180102

Fitted with specialist radar, the helicopters are able to track incoming aircraft as well as any movements on the ground or on the surface of the ocean – down to individual vehicles or vessels.

Their hunt on New Year’s Day drew a blank.

But when the team resumed their effort the next day, a dhow was found on its own far from usual shipping routes.

Tracking the vessel using radar, the Sea Kings waited for darkness before guiding the Australians in to catch the traffickers by surprise.

‘There was a massive effort from all parties involved from both Fort Rosalie and, ultimately, Warramunga,’ said Sea King detachment commander Lieutenant Commander Dan Breward.

‘As long as drugs and weapons continue to be trafficked to aid terrorism, we will be here with the coalition members to stop them; we have a track record that we aim to build upon.’

This was Warramunga’s fourth drugs seizure since arriving in the Middle East region to support the international effort to stop illegal activity in the Indian Ocean and Gulf region.

Her crew have bagged 11.5 tonnes of hashish and 69kg of heroin – worth nearly £350m on the streets of the UK.

Commander Dugald Clelland, Warramunga’s commanding officer, has praised the support of his British colleagues, normally based at RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall.

He said: ‘The Royal Navy helicopter was able to guide us to the suspect vessel that Warramunga’s boarding party searched at night, in difficult conditions.

‘The boarding party did a first-rate job and was able to locate and seize more than three and a half tonnes of illegal narcotics.’

Both ships and the helicopters are working for Combined Task Force 150, an Australian-led international force of warships which patrols 2½ million square miles of Indian Ocean on the lookout for illegal activity – most of which funds terrorism and insurgency.

Task group commander Commodore Mal Wise, based in Bahrain, said the help of the Sea Kings and Fort Rosalie was ‘essential to locating the suspect vessel’.

He said: ‘This highlights the excellent teamwork from nations contributing to our operations in the Middle East, and has a significant impact on the flow of illegal narcotics that fund terrorist networks.’

Sea King helicopters were used to help allied air power knock out Iraqi tanks in 2003 and track the movement of terrorists, insurgents, drugs and arms smugglers in Afghanistan.