HMS Montrose deals double blow to drug runners in £11m busts

Drugs worth £11m will never reach the streets – or fund terrorist activities – after the Royal Navy swooped on traffickers twice in two days in the Middle East.

HMS Montrose pounced on suspicious dhows in the Arabian Sea – resulting in a haul of nearly two-and-a-half tonnes of illegal narcotics seized in the back-to-back operations.

The frigate – which is based in Bahrain on a three-year security mission – was on patrol as part of an international task force focused on policing Middle Eastern waters to stop criminal, and especially terrorist, activity.

In hot, dirty conditions, her Royal Marines boarding team scoured the two craft for hours on end to recover the illegal cargoes.

“Having secured the vessel with my Royal Marines, we discovered the drugs in large bundled sacks, all containing individually wrapped packages. As soon as we opened the bags we were pretty confident it was an illicit substance,” boarding team leader Lieutenant Gorton RM said of the first bust.

The scores of red sacks his commandos located in a 12-hour operation turned out to be packed with heroin – 275kg in all, worth around £5.3m.

Just 36 hours later, his team was racing through the Northern Arabian Sea again in Montrose’s Pacific 24 fast boat to inspect another dhow.

The marines found an ‘Aladdin’s cave’ of illegal narcotics: hundreds of bags and sacks of hashish, heroin, and methamphetamine. It took them more than ten hours to recover them all.

“Everywhere we looked onboard there were suspicious packages,” said Lieutenant Gorton. “We soon realised how much we had interdicted.”

The tally was 2,145kg of illegal narcotics in all with a street value of £5.6m.

Everywhere we looked onboard there were suspicious packages. We soon realised how much we had interdicted.

Lieutenant Gorton RM, boarding team leader

“Once again, Montrose and her ship’s company have proven their capability in the battle against illegal and illicit activity in the region. Their continuing efforts to deliver on global operations is something they should be rightly proud of,” said Montrose’s delighted Commanding Officer Commander Ollie Hucker.

“Operations such as these are a whole-ship endeavour. I am extremely proud of my team for their efforts in impacting the global drugs trade in preventing this illegal and illicit activity to continue.

“They have prevented significant amounts of illicit substances being sold on the streets, while also denying criminal groups an income source often associated with the funding of terrorism.”

It’s the third triumph of the winter for Montrose which seized 450kg/£18m of methamphetamine – the largest seizure of crystal meth by the Royal Navy in the Gulf – in October.

“The Royal Navy and Royal Marines have once again proven their professionalism and operational capability in seizing illicit substances in transit,” said Armed Forces Minister James Heappey.

“The Armed Forces are committed to tackling organised crime around the world. The Royal Navy works with our allies in the Coalition Task Force to protect our people and our interests.

“As a result of these operations, Britain’s streets are safer and a possible source of terrorist financing has been choked off.”

The two hauls came on Montrose’s first week attached to the Canadian-led Combined Task Force 150, charged with patrolling more than three million square miles of ocean (14 times the size of the North Sea), encompassing some of the world’s most important shipping lanes.

“This interdiction was a direct result of the collaborative effort between Task Force staff and HMS Montrose, to whose crew I send my personal thanks for their skill, determination and professionalism in a challenging environment,” said Commodore Dan Charlebois Royal Canadian Navy, the task force’s commander.

“I look forward to future successes as we continue to work together as close partners towards our common goals.”

Montrose is crewed by sailors from her UK home base of Plymouth, plus her specialist Royal Marines team, with the entire ship’s company of around 200 men and women changing entirely every four months so the frigate can spend more time on patrol in the Gulf region.

She’s spent the bulk of her time since arriving in the Middle East in early 2019 providing protection, security and reassurance for merchant shipping passing through ‘choke points’ – narrow waters such as the Strait of Hormuz or Bab al Mandeb Strait at the foot of the Red Sea.