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French navy in Mideast seizes $108M drug shipment in Indian Ocean

The seizures mark the latest sign of US and allied cooperation on interdiction in Gulf waterways.
Navy drugs

A French navy vessel operating in the Middle East as part of a US-led coalition seized four separate shipments of drugs worth $108 million over the past month, the coalition announced Wednesday.

The warship confiscated 2,265 kilograms (4,993 pounds) of heroin and 242 kilograms (533 pounds) of methamphetamine from four different vessels in the Indian Ocean between April 19 and May 18, the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) coalition said in a press release.

Neither the US 5th Fleet nor the coalition revealed the name of the French vessel behind the interdictions.

Why it matters: The United States has encouraged Western allies to take a more prominent role in naval patrols in Middle Eastern waters in recent years as Washington seeks to deter China in the Pacific.

The US Navy’s 5th Fleet has said drug and arms interdictions by the United States and its allies have surged in the past two years.

A UK Royal Navy frigate seized a $6 million cache of hashish from a fishing vessel in the Arabian Sea on May 8. In January, the crew of a French navy vessel seized more than 3,000 assault rifles, more than half a million rounds of ammunition and 23 guided anti-tank missiles sent from Iran and bound for Yemen’s Houthi rebels.

Last year, the CMF set up a new unit, dubbed Combined Task Force 153, to focus on patrols in the Red Sea and off the coast of Yemen amid continued flows of weapons from Iran to Yemen’s Houthi rebels. On Monday, the CMF set up a fifth task force dedicated to training partners and allies on maritime operations.

The United States and its allies have also been experimenting with unmanned seafaring vessels equipped with sensors linked with artificial intelligence to better monitor activities in the region’s waterways. 

What’s next: Despite the US efforts to increase maritime surveillance, Iran has continued to interfere with commercial shipping.

Iran seized two commercial tanker ships in less than a week over the past month, at least one of which was thought to have been in retaliation for a US seizure of a vessel carrying Iranian petroleum to China. Iran’s naval forces have seized or interfered with 15 commercial vessels over the past two years, the 5th Fleet said.

Earlier this month, the White House announced that the United States would bolster its military presence in the Strait of Hormuz in response to the recent seizures.

Know more: The United States and allies have increased patrols in and around the strait using ships and aircraft in recent weeks, but the United States did not deploy any new assets to the region as part of the response, officials said.

Last week, the commander of US naval forces in the Middle East, Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, transited the strait aboard a US Navy destroyer, the USS Paul Hamilton, along with the commander of French forces in the Indian Ocean, Vice Adm. Emmanuel Slaars, and the UK Maritime Component commander, Commodore Philip Denis.

Al-Monitor has reached out to the French Embassy in Washington for comment.

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