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December 22, 2003

Navy nabs Al-Quaida drug dhows

Five days after nearly $10 million worth of hashish was found aboard a dhow in the Arabian Gulf, coalition forces have made another significant drug interception, reports Navy News Service.

Intelligence gained from the Dec. 15 raid by USS Decatur (DDG 73) led the U.S. Navy to board two dhows in the North Arabian Sea, this time discovering what is believed to be pure heroin and methamphetamines.

A P-3K maritime patrol aircraft from the Royal New Zealand Air Force initially located the two suspect dhows Dec. 18. New Zealand and coalition maritime patrol aircraft from Australia, United Kingdom and the United States continuously tracked the dhows for the next 48 hours.

While the dhows were being tracked from the air, the Aegis guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea (CG 58) was directed by Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command (CENTCOM) to intercept the dhows.

With a British Royal Air Force Nimrod patrolling overhead, Philippine Sea intercepted the two dhows believed to be operating together in the North Arabian Sea at dawn Dec. 20. One of Philippine Sea’s search teams boarded the first dhow and found approximately 150 pounds of methamphetamines.

Meanwhile, the second dhow attempted to outrun the interception forces. A Navy P-3C Orion from Patrol Squadron (VP) 47 videotaped the crew of the second dhow throwing approximately 200 bags overboard while they fled. The second dhow was caught and boarded by another Philippine Sea boarding team. Once aboard the second dhow, Sailors discovered one 50-pound bag and one 35-pound bag of a substance that is believed to be pure heroin. Depending on its quality, pure heroin can cost between $18,000 and $86,000 per pound.

Sailors from Philippine Sea now control both dhows while the investigation continues. The 14 crewmen from the first dhow and seven crewmen from the second dhow are all in U.S. Navy custody for further screening and legal processing. Final disposition of the two dhows is pending.

The boardings were conducted as part of coalition forces Expanded Maritime Interception Operations designed to deny use of the seas by terrorists and smugglers throughout the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility.

“Coming so quick on the heels of our earlier drug dhow capture, this operation tells me that our intelligence coordination with the brave sailors conducting these MIO boardings are right on the money,” said Rear Adm. Jim Stavridis, commander, USS Enterprise (CVN 65) Aircraft Carrier Strike Group. "We are investigating potential Al-Qaida connections to these operations."

In the earlier, seizure Navy News Service reports that a U.S. Navy boarding team operating from the guided-missile destroyer USS Decatur (DDG 73) discovered an estimated two tons of narcotics with an estimated street value of $8-10 million aboard a 40-foot dhow intercepted in the Arabian Gulf Dec. 15, at approximately 11 a.m.

The dhow's 12 crewmembers were taken into custody and transferred to Decatur, and Decatur Sailors are in control of the dhow. The smuggling routes are known to be used by Al-Qaida, and three of the 12 crew members are believed to have links to the organization.

Decatur was operating near the Strait of Hormuz, conducting Expanded Maritime Interception Operations designed to deny use of the seas by terrorists and smugglers.

Once aboard the dhow, Decatur's boarding team determined that the dhow's crew lacked proper documentation of its nationality or cargo. Decatur's team then discovered 54 70-pound bags of hashish. An initial investigation uncovered clear ties between the smuggling operation and al-Qaida.

"This capture is indicative of the need for continuing maritime patrol of the Gulf in order to stop the movement of terrorists, drugs and weapons," said Rear Adm. Jim Stavridis, commander, USS Enterprise (CVN 65) Aircraft Carrier Strike Group. "This is a vital part of winning the global war on terror."

Future disposition of the dhow and its crew will be determined following coordination with and investigation by legal authorities. The boarding was coordinated by Commander, Destroyer Squadron 18, embarked aboard Enterprise, operating in the Arabian Gulf. Decatur, a part of Expeditionary Strike Group 1, is homeported in San Diego

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