Huge cache of drugs seized from Sri Lanka-bound vessel

Joint interrogation team to probe terror angle of armed suspects

November 26, 2020 03:49 am | Updated 03:49 am IST - THOOTHUKUDI/CHENNAI

The Indian Coast Guard intercepted a boat carrying a huge quantity of heroin and some foreign nationals off the Thoothukudi coast early on Wednesday. Preliminary enquiry revealed that the suspects were armed and transporting the narcotics consignment to Sri Lanka.

Defence vessels have stepped up surveillance along the eastern seaboard since Tuesday to assist fishermen in distress ahead of Cyclone Nivar. While it was not clear whether the boat was intercepted by chance or after a specific input, a senior official said initial reports confirmed the presence of foreign nationals in possession of a huge quantity of drugs.

According to a source, the crew members had about 100 kilograms of heroin in 99 packets, 20 cartons of synthetic drugs, five 9 mm pistols and a satellite phone, all worth about ₹500 crore in the international market. The boat belonged to a Sri Lankan national and had originated from Karachi, Pakistan, at least a week ago.

“A joint interrogation team comprising Central/State intelligence and law-enforcing agencies will be formed to interrogate the suspects after they are escorted to Thoothukudi. Agents operating in Pakistan have been a source of drug supply to South-East Asian countries via Sri Lanka. We will investigate to see if there is a terror-funding angle to this smuggling,” a top police officer told The Hindu on Wednesday.

This is the second major such interception in recent year. In 2013, the Coast Guard had detained a Sierra Leone-flagged vessel with about 30 armed guards, all foreign nationals, off the Thoothukudi coast.

Though the vessel — Seaman Guard Ohio — belonged to AdvanFort, a U.S.-based firm that provides maritime security, sources in defence agencies said the crew and guards could not explain why they had entered Indian waters. They had no documents authorising their possession of sophisticated arms and ammunition, which included semi-automatic weapons and self-loading rifles.

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