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In a rare insight into their daring operations to disrupt heroin, crystal and hashish smuggling routes in the Gulf of Oman, a brave Commando said they are detecting more boats leaving Balochistan. The smugglers even know how to behave as the Royal Marines close in, and move to the front of their dhows and wait.
Lieutenant Wotton, whose full identity the Daily Express is protecting, said “they know the drill” and have been “boarded lots of times before.”
He revealed some lower paid smugglers will put in less effort to hide the drugs despite “expecting” to be caught.
The narcotics intercepted in the Gulf are around 80-90 per cent in purity and the vast majority are destined for Europe after being ‘cut’ in eastern Africa.
Royal Marines will often feel the hands of the suspected smugglers posing as fishermen, the Daily Express has been told. They say doing so can expose if someone is used to hauling nets in and out of water all day.
The brave Commando admitted the smugglers “escalate” their tactics whenever they feel the Royal Navy bearing down on them.
But elite troops from both the Royal Marines and the Royal Navy will be hoping to disrupt more smuggling routes in the coming weeks.
Any boat spotted that does not allow itself to be seen – through the Automatic Identification System used by the vast majority of maritime traffic – will be identified as suspicious and Royal Navy crews will make attempts to contact them by radio.
A Wildcat attack helicopter will hover miles away using long range cameras to assess the vessel, its route and its behaviour.
Royal Marines could then be ordered to intercept it and investigate for weapons and drugs.
Lt Wotton, 24, is one of the brave Commandos who boards boats suspected of being involved in smuggling operations in the Gulf of Oman.
He last night told the Daily Express how the smell of “wet wood” hits Commandos as they clamber onto small dhow boats typically used by smugglers.
But violence rarely breaks out.
Lt Wotton revealed: “When we get on a dhow, we will secure it and make sure the area is safe.
“That will look like a crew being taken to a certain area, keeping them there, searching and clearing the vessel to make sure there is no other threat.
“No matter whether it is a smuggling vessel or a fishing vessel, it is always different to getting onto a sailing boat in the UK. There is a lot of wet wood, that smell will hit you.
“You can tell by how they act. There will be less people onboard, but not always.”
The marine said the majority of suspected criminals are “fishermen who take a smuggler role part time”.
He said: “They usually know the drill, these smugglers, these fishermen who have smuggled narcotics, beer, anything, which is seen as needing smuggling.
“They have been boarded before a lot of the ones that are carrying something. Even without you having to instruct them to move to the front, or in a safe location before you board, they know the kick and are already there.
“You will be able to tell once you’ve interacted with the crew. You can feel, when the lads are searching them, if they haven’t got any dangerous objects on them, they can feel their hands and see if they are working hands used to pulling nets, or how they are dressed.
“You can usually tell, compared to the usual fishermen.
“They don’t speak English. They are usually quite quiet.
“Me and the team have been working a lot on Balochistan. It is usually where these smugglers come from.”
Some of the captains are said to be Iranian. But boarding teams are now carrying “cue cards” to help people from Balochistan.
Commander Paul Irving, captain of the HMS Lancaster frigate currently in the Gulf of Oman, admitted the smugglers are very rarely arrested.
He hinted some crew members are being used by the gangs.
Commander Irving told the Daily Express: “Some of these people onboard may have no idea what they are doing. They are just part of a crew. They are just being paid to do their job and be part of the crew on this ship.
“All we do is take away the stuff they shouldn’t have and set them back to wherever they were going.
“We’ll just record the details of the vessel and any distinguishing markings and keep that on record for next time if we come across it again.
“But we don’t report the people. Some of them don’t even know what it is they are transporting. They are just the crew of a dhow going about their business.
“Someone else is paying them behind the scenes and providing the cargo and unfortunately that’s not something we’re able to influence directly from being at sea.”
The drugs are always destroyed, but little else happens to the smugglers who then return to a coastline spanning hundreds of miles in Iran, Pakistan and Balochistan.
The organised crime gangs are so concerned about being caught they are now splitting their drugs into different boats.
They would typically send narcotics such as heroin in one lump.
But they are now sending smaller amounts of different drugs on the same boats.
Lt Wotton said: “Rather than sending one large chunk, one larger type of drug, they will be split down into different types of drugs – probably the same overall mass going across but made up of different aspects.
“So like any other business, it reduces that risk.
“Drug smugglers or their bosses are like business owners. With drug busts in the past, with the main focus being either heroin or hash, it would be very concentrated and one type of drug busted.
“That has changed recently because of the market price for that drug plummeting.
“They look to diversify. You see more dhows coming across with a vast range of different types of drugs so that if they are hit and taken out of the equation, they affect the economy of that drug a lot less.
“They expect to be boarded.
“So they do take precautions to make sure that their packages are stowed in places you can’t see very obviously. Sometimes you can, depending on their speed and how much they are being paid and the amount of focus they have put into their hidespots.
“They will look to disguise or enclose their packages.”
Last May, the Royal Navy seized almost £2 million worth of heroin in the Gulf of Oman.
Teams spent nine hours searching the vessel hunting for drugs.
Commander Irving admitted that as the helicopter was unavailable for this boarding, the Royal Navy chased the fishing boat in the Type 23 frigate.
Lt Wotton said: “The concentration of the drugs coming out of here is so high in comparison to what you find in the UK.
“In the UK, you would be lucky to get 4 to 6 per cent in purity.
“Out here you are getting high 80 per cent, 90 per cents which is so so pure because when it goes into Africa it is then cut and distributed and it is cut again and again.
“By the time you get to Europe, it is diluted.
“The amount you get on the deck is obviously, timed by 10 before it is actually put on the streets. It is hitting the artery before you hit the capillaries.”
By contrast, weapons smugglers will typically use faster skiffs in a bid to avoid detection in the Gulf of Oman.
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