French frigate seizes five tonnes of drugs in the Indian Ocean


The French frigate Courbet has seized five tonnes of drugs in the Indian Ocean in the last three weeks.

On Friday 13 December, La Fayette-class frigate (FLF) Courbet seized more than 3.5 tonnes of cannabis resin in the Gulf of Oman in France’s biggest seizure in the region in 2019. The frigate was operating under the operational control of the Commander of the Indian Ocean maritime zone (ALINDIEN), in direct support of Combined Task Force (CTF) 150. CTF150 is a coalition bringing together navies from several countries to combat trafficking and unlawful activities linked to terrorism and guarantee the safety of maritime spaces, the French embassy said.

On the basis of intelligence, Courbet located a suspicious-looking dhow sailing without a flag, keeping it within radar range for over 36 hours until the drugs it had on board were transferred onto another vessel. Around 1:00 am, the dhow suddenly headed south and the frigate set off in pursuit.

Its boarding party searched the vessel, before detecting the drugs in a double-bottomed fuel tank. A total of 172 bundles of cannabis resin, each weighing around 20 kg, were discovered. The drug was seized, taken on board Courbet, weighed and sealed, then destroyed under the responsibility of the Commander and on ALINDIEN’s orders.

On January 4, a Panther helicopter spotted a suspicious dhow in the Indian Ocean, prompting the Courbet to follow the vessel. The next morning, a boarding team from the frigate searched the vessel and discovered 75 bales of cannabis resin weighing a total of 1.5 tonnes. The drugs were transferred onto the Courbet.

Setting sail for Toulon on 7 November, Courbet took over from anti-air frigate (FAA) Jean Bart on 23 November as part of a French presence mission in the Arabian-Persian Gulf whose purpose is twofold: to combat drug trafficking whilst helping protect French interests in the region. In 2019 French ships made nine seizures in the area, totalling nearly 15 tonnes of illegal products.

The Royal Navy also recently seized drugs in the area, with the HMS Defender destroyer recovering 131 kg of crystal methamphetamine from a dhow it had been following on 19 December.

The suspicious vessel was first detected using Defender’s Wildcat shipborne helicopter. The vessel then closed the dhow and a team of Royal Marine Commandos in Pacific 24 boats boarded and secured the vessel. It was then searched by a Royal Navy boarding team who found 11 packages of narcotics, with an estimated regional wholesale value of $280 000.

HMS Defender’s haul, on its first day working under Combined Maritime Forces, was CTF150’s largest interdiction of crystal methamphetamine for 2019. It took CTF150’s overall narcotics seizures in 2019 to $48.5 million.

CTF150 has seen a huge increase in the amount of crystal methamphetamine being smuggled year on year, with 257 kg interdicted to date in 2019, versus only 9kg in 2018.