US Navy ship makes $42 million drug bust in the Gulf of Oman

The US Navy made a $42 million drug bust last week, stopping a small vessel even as the crew was attempting to ditch some of the illicit cargo. The seizure occurred on April 21, when the guided-missile destroyer USS Paul Hamilton intercepted a fishing boat transiting the Gulf of Oman.

Once aboard, Navy and Coast Guard service members from the USS Paul Hamilton discovered 802 kilograms of methamphetamines and 1,000 kilograms of hashish. Before being boarded, the five crewmembers on the fishing vessel – who identified themselves as Iranian nationals – attempted to throw at least 50 35-pound bags of amphetamines overboard, some of which were ultimately recovered by the Navy.

“This was outstanding work by the entire Paul Hamilton team,” Capt. Anthony Webber, commander of Task Force 55, responsible for overseeing U.S. maritime surface operations in the Middle East, said in a Navy release. “These interdictions remove illicit narcotics from the high seas and help deter destabilizing activity in regional waters.”

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Since the beginning of 2023, ships operating with Combined Task Force 150, which patrols the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, the Indian Ocean, and the Gulf of Oman and is comprised of personnel from 38 nations, have seized approximately $150 million worth of illegal narcotics.

In February 2023, for instance,  the USCGC John Scheuerman seized 1,350 kilograms of hashish, 276 kilograms of methamphetamine, and 23 kilograms of amphetamine pills on a fishing vessel in the Arabian Sea, which the Coast Guard estimated had a value of approximately $20 million. In January 2023, another U.S. Coast Guard cutter, the USCGC Emlen Tunnell, captured 4,000 kilograms of hashish and 512 kilograms of methamphetamines from a repurposed fishing vessel in the Gulf of Oman, a seizure with an estimated value of $33 million.

In 2021 and 2022, these drug seizures totaled approximately $1 billion in value. The maritime routes patrolled by CTC-150 are quite busy when it comes to smuggling not only drugs but also weapons and explosives material. Much of this illicit cargo is thought to originate in Iran, likely intended to support Houthi rebel groups in Yemen.

In January of this year, the coastal patrol ships USS Chinook and USS Monsoon discovered more than 2,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles aboard a small ship in the Gulf of Oman, and in December 2022, the Navy intercepted another small vessel in those same waters carrying more than 50 tons of ammunition rounds, fuses and propellants for rockets. In 2021, the guided-missile cruiser USS Monterey stopped a small ship so loaded down with weapons that it took the crew 36 hours to unload every last anti-tank missile, machine gun, sniper rifle, and rocket-propelled grenade launchers on board.

“I am incredibly pleased with the performance of our Sailors,” said Cmdr. Jake Ferrari, commanding officer of Paul Hamilton, in a Navy statement. “We remain committed to delivering consistent maritime security and countering illicit activities and contraband smuggling in the region.”

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