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HMS Montrose strikes blow to criminal networks with £15m drugs bust

Royal Navy warship HMS Montrose delivered her fifth blow to drug runners in the Middle East this year.

Her team of sailors and Royal Marines seized around 870kg of crystal methamphetamine from a dhow in the Arabian Sea during a six-hour operation.

Persistence from the boarding team led to a secret compartment being found aboard the vessel, revealing hidden illegal narcotics.

The haul was brought back to the frigate for inspection and weighing. The drugs totalled 870kg when counted, worth around £15.5m wholesale value in the UK according to the National Crime Agency.

It’s the fifth drugs interdiction of the year by the ship while operating under the international Combined Task Force 150 and means Montrose has prevented nearly £47m illegal narcotics reaching the streets in 2022, denying the proceeds to criminals or terrorists.

The frigate, which has been deployed to the Middle East since the beginning of 2019, also seized two illegal arms shipments earlier this year – all of which underscores the importance of maintaining a major Royal Navy warship in the region on a long-term mission.

“Today we have disrupted the unlawful use of the oceans. A seizure of this size will deal a huge blow to the criminal or terrorist gangs using these illegal narcotics to fund their activity,” said Commander Claire Thompson, the frigate’s Commanding Officer.

“This success proves we will persistently deny criminals the freedom to conduct their illegal activity on the High Seas. Disrupting terrorist organisations, criminals and their funding lines is key to keeping to UK, and rest of the world, safe. 

“It is a privilege to command HMS Montrose and the incredibly professional, highly-trained and dedicated personnel that I have on my team. I could not be prouder of each and every one of them.”

The frigate is one of numerous international warships attached to Saudi-led Combined Task Force 150, itself part of the wider naval security mission from Suez to the Seychelles and western seaboard of the Indian sub-continent directed from Bahrain by the Combined Maritime Forces, a partnership of 38 nations committed to safety, security and the free passage of trade on the key sea lanes in the Middle East.
CTF 150 is one of several task groups in the region. It has a specific remit to conduct maritime security operations across a vast area spanning the Red and Arabian Seas, and much of the Indian Ocean, where it combats drug smuggling, human trafficking and illegal weapons.

It is a privilege to command HMS Montrose and the incredibly professional, highly-trained and dedicated personnel that I have on my team. I could not be prouder of each and every one of them.

Commander Claire Thompson

HMS Montrose pounced after her Wildcat helicopter located and tracked the suspect dhow until the frigate was in range to launch her boarding teams in her boats.
Royal Marines from 42 Commando – the UK military’s specialists in these operations – seized control of the vessel in choppy conditions, before sailors moved in to search the craft for any illegal cargo, while overhead the Wildcat observed proceedings and provided cover for those scouring the dhow for her illicit cargo.

“The team did really well and I’m really pleased with the outcome. We initially found ten bags, but we suspected there was more. Once we got behind a false bulkhead we found a compartment full of illegal narcotics,” said Lieutenant Liam Speed, the Royal Navy boarding officer.

Combined Task Force 150 Commander Commodore Almutairi Abdullah of the Royal Saudi Navy said: “This was a successful day for Combined Task Force 150.

“We work with other Combined Maritime Forces nations to deter the illicit use of the sea. Successful boardings like this help to deter people from using the sea for criminal purposes. Being able to reassure our regional partners that the task force is strengthening our maritime security.”

Commodore Adrian Fryer, the senior Royal Navy officer in the Middle East – and also Deputy Commander of the Combined Maritime Forces, said that once again the concerted international naval effort had delivered results, preventing “a significant quantity of illegal narcotics from reaching its destination.”

He continued: “The professionalism of all involved from the command of the task force through to the boarding team is demonstrative of our commitment to maintaining rules-based order at sea. I look forward to continued success for CTF 150 and HMS Montrose.”

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