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Australian Navy Seizes Almost A Tonne Of Heroin In Arabian Sea

Over 900 kilograms of heroin, with a street value of $279 million, was seized by Royal Australian Navy frigate HMAS Ballarat in recent days.

The Navy's boarding team found the drugs on fishing vessels -- known as dhows -- believed to be engaged in illegal activity in the Arabian Sea.

These are the first seizures HMAS Ballarat has made since starting operations in the Middle East region last month.

Operation MANITOU is part of Australia’s contribution to the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF), a 33-nation naval partnership led by the United States.

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The Australian Navy has blocked "vessels carrying narcotics on 38 occasions and seized almost seven tonnes of heroin and 38 tonnes of hashish," since joining MANITOU in 2014, a Defence spokesperson told 10 daily.

"[This equates] to an estimated combined street value in excess of $5 billion."

One of the fishing vessels suspected to be engaged in illegal activity in the Arabian Sea. Image: Australian Department of Defence.

The two vessels were boarded on December 21 and 23, with Australian sailors seizing 165 kilograms of heroin in the first sting and 766 kg in the second.

The dhows were identified as "suspect" and inspected by HMAS Ballarat's boarding team under a legal remit to determine their registration details.

"If certain criteria is not met, a search can then be conducted," the Defence spokesperson explained.

The seized heroin was disposed of into the sea, as is the standard practice for vessels operating within the Combined Maritime Forces.

“This operation will impact on the flow of narcotics around the world and the use of drug money to fund extremist organisations,” Commander of Australian Forces in the Middle East, Rear Admiral Jaimie Hatcher, said in a media release.

Senior Terrorism Prevention Officer for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Irka Kuleshnyk, has shared how the relationship between drug trafficking and terrorism is a debatable issue.

HMAS Ballarat's Boarding Party layout suspected narcotics found during a boarding on a suspicious dhow on December 21 and 23. Image: Australian Department of Defence.

"While it is difficult to establish how widely terrorist groups are involved in the illicit drug trade, or the breadth and nature of cooperation between these two criminal groups, the magnitude of the numbers involved make the relationship worrisome," Kuleshnyk stated at a 2017 conference.

Despite record seizures, the 2018 National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program outlined Australia's ‘demand for harmful drugs remains robust’.

The report found heroin use is higher in Australia’s major cities, while fentanyl use -- another drug derived from opium -- is higher in rural and regional towns.

Young Australians (aged 14–24) first try heroin at 16.9 years old on average, according to the Australian Drug & Alcohol Foundation.

The 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey found just over one percent of Australians have ever tried heroin.

Federal and state laws in Australia provide penalties for possessing, using, making or selling heroin, or driving under the influence and supply is much more severely punished than other activities associated with heroin use.

Featured image: Australian Department of Defence.