Op Atalanta strikes on “Hash Highway” and “Smack Track”


Drug trafficking, identified by  South Africa Navy Chief Vice Admiral Mosiwa Hlongwane as one of ten major threats to African maritime security, at present finds itself with a bloody nose in the western Indian Ocean.

The efforts of the European Union Naval Force (EU NavFor) Operation Atalanta, until March confined to escort duties for World Food Programme (WFP) vessels and interdicting pirates, now includes narcotics interdiction. The tasking was added to its mandate in the wake of piracy incidents reaching an all-time low off the coasts of Somalia and the Horn of Africa.

The first successful drug bust took place early in April followed by a further six in quick succession, netting in total over eight tons of various narcotics.

An EU NavFor statement has it the French surveillance frigate Floréal (F730), under Atalanta’s command, successfully carried out four consecutive drug seizures in international waters while on counter piracy patrol duty. She seized close to 1 400 kg of heroin, 1 200 kg of methamphetamines and 25 kg of hashish, worth 50 to 60 million euros in wholesale value and more than 200 million euros ($236 million) in European street value according to data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

These four seizures were made when the Floréal was heading north, following the “Smack Track”, the name given to one drugs route in the Western Indian Ocean, which connects the northern coast of the Arabian Sea to the Southern-Eastern African coast, eventually ending in European markets.

Floréal was again in action a fortnight later, netting six tons of dagga in three interceptions of flagless ships.

Since 7 April, vessels detached to Operation Atalanta confiscated over eight tons of narcotics with an estimated street value in the region of 200 million euros ($236 million).

The latest seizures were on what is colloquially known as the “hash highway”, another major drug route linking the western Indian Ocean, Arabian Sea and Gulf of Aden.

EU NavFor said Atalanta’s secondary counter narcotics executive task is closely linked to its primary mission objectives of counter piracy, “targeting illegal activities into which piracy networks diversify”, as well as tackling sources of funding for violent extremist organisations throughout East Africa from Mozambique to northern Somalia.

Addressing a recent maritime security conference in Simon’s Town, Vice Admiral Mosiwa Hlongwane listed 10 major threats to continental maritime security. They are illegal arms and drug trafficking, piracy, armed robbery at sea, crude oil theft, maritime terrorism, human trafficking, waste dumping and environmental harm, unregulated and illegal fishing as well as overfishing.