No let-up in drug smuggling via sea routes by Pakistan-based syndicates

Enforcement agencies working in collaboration with their counterparts in Sri Lanka and Maldives

December 15, 2021 06:15 pm | Updated 06:15 pm IST - NEW DELHI:

The latest seizure of about 250 kg narcotics by the Sri Lankan Navy in international waters is an indication that there has been no let-up in the trend of Pakistan-based syndicates using maritime routes for drug trafficking in the region, according to the Indian drug law enforcement agencies.

The Navy, in cooperation with the Police Narcotic Bureau, intercepted a vessel transporting the contraband about 1,665 km south of the Sri Lankan coast. Six persons were also detained.

According to the Sri Lanka Navy, it had earlier impounded a local fishing vessel with 290 kg of heroin on August 30 in the high seas. Two more foreign fishing vessels carrying over 336 kg and 170 kg of heroin, respectively, were intercepted on September 4 and 10.

“In view of a recent spurt in the use of sea routes by drug traffickers, we have been working in coordination with our counterparts in Sri Lanka and Maldives,” said a Customs official.

In Maldives, in October, enforcement agencies arrested several persons, including foreigners, and seized two 100 kg and 215 kg heroin consignments that were suspected to have been smuggled in via sea. Through a tweet on October 15, the Maldives Police chief also recognised the Indian government’s contribution to the second operation. Earlier this month, the Maldives authorities also seized 119 kg of drugs suspected to be heroin.

“Investigations have so far indicated that the heroin being processed in, or supplied from Afghanistan to, Pakistan is generally sent in small quantities to Lahore and Faisalabad, from where several gangs transport the contraband to Karachi or Gwadar for further smuggling to countries like Sri Lanka, Maldives and India, using fishing vessels. In the seizures made in 2019, the agencies had noticed that the packing covers were of certain popular brands of oats and wheat flour in Pakistan,” said the official.

The probe agencies have found that from Afghanistan and Pakistan, the opium used for heroin production is sent to the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA), which is part of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, and Balochistan. The Pakistan-based gangs use the Makran coast as the staging point. Iranian traditional dhows are also a part of their distribution channel.

“The networks smuggling drugs via sea routes include the Pakistani prisoners lodged in Sri Lankan and Maldivian jails, besides local criminals,” the official said.

One such network involved Sri Lankan underworld don Angoda Lokka, who had escaped to India in 2017 and was found dead under mysterious circumstances in Tamil Nadu’s Coimbatore in July 2020. He had been living under a pseudonym. Last month, the Crime Branch-CID police from Coimbatore arrested his close accomplice and Sri Lankan national Athurugiriye Ladiya.

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