Drones deployed from a U.K. Royal Navy warship helped intercept nearly a ton of heroin being transported by smugglers en route to Tanzania in the Indian Ocean, WestBriton reports.
The 981-kilogram stash is worth an estimated 26.5 million pounds ($42 million US), DailyEcho reported. Its street value is much higher — 98 million pounds ($155 million US). If distributed, it would have made an estimated 3 million individual doses, according to WestBriton.
Cheap heroin is abundant in Dar es Salaam — as little as $1 a dose, according to an AlJazeera report. Heroin use has surged in the U.S. and elsewhere around the world in recent years.
There are more than 500,000 heroin users in East Africa, according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, AlJazeera reports. Up to 60 percent of them may live in Tanzania, the U.N. believes, with a heavy concentration in the port city of Dar es Salaam. That’s where popular Indian Ocean drug trade routes make landfall.
The Portsmouth-based warship used ScanEagle drones of 700X Naval Air Squadron to fly undetected above the smugglers, monitor activity and pass information back and forth to commanders.
Teams from Australia and New Zealand boarded six boats carrying heroin off the east coast of Africa and seized their cargoes. The result was a series of drug busts in the Indian Ocean.
The international task force was formed to do drug-smuggling patrols and counter-terrorism. It included British frigate HMS Richmond.
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“The team on board HMS Richmond has spent many hours scouring the seas for potential smugglers,” said Culdrose commanding officer Capt. Adrian Orchard, WestBriton reports. “It has been a painstaking operation, but the huge amount of drugs captured by the task force is a great result.”
The HMS Richmond and its 200 sailors and Royal Marines played a vital role in the seizures, Commanding Officer Mark Anderson said in the DailyEcho.
“Richmond has played her part in disrupting the narcotics supply routes via Africa into Europe and the U.K., working with France, Australia, New Zealand and Tanzanian authorities.
“It’s a unique thing the Royal Navy can do, deploying thousands of miles from home, working side-by-side with regional allies and having a direct impact on the supply of narcotics into the UK.”
The scan eagle drone is a small, cheap, long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicle built by U.S. company Insitu, a subsidiary of Boeing, , according to the Canadian American Strategic Review. It evolved from another Insitu drone, SeaScan, a commercial drone that was intended for fish spotting. The technology has been used for surveillance in the battlefield since 2004 in the Iraq War.