Six members of Iranian family among foreigners held for drug smuggling bid


By Shamindra Ferdinando

Among the Iranians arrested in a recent joint Police Narcotics Bureau (PNB)-Navy operation off Dondra point are six men from one family, including 12-year-old boy, according to court documents.

They are among ten Iranian crew of an Iranian owned trawler seized by the SLN after the PNB using decoys successfully negotiated to purchase 110 kilos of heroin with a street value of over USD 7.5 mn. PNB personnel boarded the Iranian vessel to ‘conclude’ the deal.

In addition to the Iranians, authorities arrested a Singaporean, two Pakistanis and an Indian; some of them were arrested on land. The arrest of 14 persons is the biggest single apprehension of foreigners by Sri Lankan authorities.

The seizure is the biggest since August 2013, when police found 260kg of heroin hidden in a shipping container that had come from Pakistan. Then Prime Minister D.M. Jayaratne was implicated in that case.

Navy Chief Vice Admiral Ravindra C. Wijegunaratne yesterday told The Island that all institutions tasked with tackling the narcotics menace had been brought together on a presidential directive. "We meet regularly to discuss ways and means of neutralizing those smuggling in narcotics. The PNB got in touch with us regarding a major heroin shipment leading to the recent detection."

VA Wijegunaratne paid a glowing tribute to the PNB for having specific intelligence required to carry out the highly successful operation. The operation conducted in the Southern seas had been based on excellent work done by the PNB, the Navy Chief said, adding that his officers and men really enjoyed working with the special outfit.

Responding to a query, the Navy Commander asserted that the Iranian boat could have had an opportunity to hand over a part of its consignment along the way before being trapped by the PNB. The naval veteran estimated that the vessel could have carried as much as 400 kgs of heroin.

The Navy deployed SLNS Nandimitra and SLNS Mihikathato meet any eventuality. The vessels had been positioned in such a way not to alert the foreign crew of the Iranian boat.

VA Wijegunaratne said that the recent detection underscored the urgent need to take tangible measures to counter maritime drug trafficking. Referring to terrorism, VA Wijegunaratne said that Sri Lanka paid a very heavy price for neglecting maritime affairs and now maritime drug trafficking was going to cause a major problem.

The Navy Chief said that it was going to be the major post-war challenge. "We had to prevent supplies coming into the country as well as Sri Lanka being used as a transhipment point."

The Vice Adm. said that he had an opportunity to discuss anti-narcotics strategy at Indian Ocean region’s Senior Drug Enforcement Officials’ meeting in Colombo last October. The Governments should work together to terminate drug trafficking instead of controlling it, VA Wijegunaratne said, adding that no navy could achieve 100 per cent surveillance. Those who had been engaged in drug trafficking knew the shortcomings on the part of the military and drug enforcement agencies, which they exploited.

Referring to the recent detection, VA Wijegunaratne said that obviously the foreign crew expected to transfer 110 kgs of heroin to a Sri Lankan fishing trawler. Recollecting lifting of a spate of restrictions imposed on the fishing community since the conclusion of the conflict in May 2009, VA Wijegunaratne said that some of fishing vessels engaged in drug trafficking. The Navy chief acknowledged that it wouldn’t be practical to check all fishing vessels leaving and entering fisheries harbours and other landing points.

He also explained Indian fishermen trafficking drugs to Sri Lanka with the help of local fishermen. The navy chief said that monitoring mid sea transfers was impossible therefore drug traffickers took advantage of the situation.

Based on information provided by anti-narcotics agencies, VA Wijegunaratne said that the estimated value of Sri Lanka’s daily heroin consumption was about Rs 450 mn. Accordingly, approximately 45,000 heroin addicts consume about 763 kgs of heroin annually. But, about 3.5 tons were believed to be brought into Sri Lanka, the Vice Adm said, adding that substantial stocks were being transferred to various countries through Sri Lanka.

VA Wijegunaratne insisted that drug trafficking could be stopped. The navy chief asserted that all experts believed the LTTE could never be defeated though the armed forces achieved victory within three years. Similarly, drug trafficking could be eradicated by implementing a coordinated strategy, he said.


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