USCG Cutter Completes Second 2024 Arabian Sea Drug Seizure

USCG drug seizure
During a search of a dhow, the USCG made the second 2024 seizure of illegal drugs (CENTCOM)

Published Jan 18, 2024 8:51 PM by The Maritime Executive


For the second time in less than two weeks, a U.S. Coast Guard cutter operating as part of the Combined Maritime Force based in Bahrain has completed a successful drug seizure. It is part of a concerted effort by Combined Task Force 150 in its mission to disrupt the ability of non-state actors to move weapons or drugs or engage in other illicit activities, in the Gulf of Oman, the Arabian Sea, and the Indian Ocean.

The Sentinel-class fast response cutter USCG Emlen Tunnell undertook both interventions, which were the first two of 2024. According to the details released by CTF 150, the cutter was on patrol in the Arabian Sea on January 16. It stopped a dhow for a routine inspection and flag verification, at which time the team discovered 173 kilograms of methamphetamines during a search.

They are estimating the value of the illegal drugs at about $8.1 million. As if their normal operating procedures, the drugs are seized and disposed of by the CTF. The vessel was released.

This week’s seizure followed a similar incident on January 5 by the same cutter. During that stop and search, they discovered 37 kilograms of heroin, 187 kilograms of methamphetamine, and five kilograms of cocaine. The estimated value of this earlier seizure was about $11 million. The drugs were disposed of by the USCG and the dhow released.

CTF 150 is one of five task forces under Combined Maritime Forces, with a mission to focus on maritime security in the Gulf of Oman, Arabian Sea, and Indian Ocean. The first seizures of 2024 were especially significant as they came at the end of the French command of the Task Force. France took leadership in the rotating command structure in July and led an effort to increase enforcement and detection by working with partners across the region.

This week’s seizure came one day before France turned over command of the task force to the Royal Canadian Navy. During the period since France took command of the CTF in July 2023, a total of 14 seizures at sea of illegal narcotics were completed. More than 16 tons of illegal narcotics with a street value of over $600 million were seized and disposed of, preventing criminal and terrorist organizations from generating income from drug smuggling.

The U.S. and its partners in the region have been focusing on their efforts to identify and stop criminal activity. Last Thursday, a U.S. Navy SEAL team participated in another flag verification and search operation on a dhow. They only reported a general location off the coast of Somalia in the Arabian Sea, and during that operation, a cache of Iranian-made weaponry heading to the Houthis in Yemen was seized including propulsion, guidance, and warheads for Houthi medium-range ballistic missiles and anti-ship cruise missiles, as well as air defense associated components. CENTCOM reported that an initial analysis indicated that the same weapons have been employed by the Houthis to threaten and attack international merchant ships transiting in the Red Sea.

The SEAL team was operating from the USS Lewis B Puller, one of the expeditionary mobile base vessels, supported by helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles. Tragically, during what CENTCOM termed a complex boarding of the dhow, two of the SEAL team were lost in the water. The operation however also represented the first successful seizure of weaponry components since the beginning of Houthi attacks against merchant ships in November 2023.