Is Sri Lanka, a transshipment hub?
Over 110 kilograms of heroin was seized from the Southern coastal
area on April 1, was no false alarm. This haul of illegally-trafficked
drugs believed to be the largest consignment seized on the high seas in
recent history by law enforcement agencies, is just the tip of the
The ship transporting the
The actual situation of drug trafficking in the Indian ocean is far
worse, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Law
enforcement officials and regional navies were alerted by the UNODC
months ago on the alarming increase of heroin trafficked globally in the
world, including Sri Lanka and also in the East African countries. The
reason being the war in Syria, which enhanced the flow of heroin to
Europe through these routes.
Drug stamps found on the 110 kg heroin consignment matched with
records of the ‘Compendium of Drug Seizures at Sea’, clearly
establishing that the same drug trafficking networks operating from the
Makran coast to East Africa, were now operating to South Asia as well,
according to Shanaka Jayasekara, Program Officer (Maritime Crime -
Indian Ocean) of the Global Maritime Crime Program (GMCP).
According to Jayasekara, the GMCP remains committed to support the
law enforcement authorities in Sri Lanka to build capacity and
capability to counter drug trafficking at sea. “GMCP has been in regular
contact with the Sri Lankan authorities and have responded to immediate
requirements in support of the investigation. This assistance is
currently being provided to the Police Narcotics Bureau(PNB),” he said.
The GMCP of UNODC has a close working relationship with the PNB and
the Sri Lanka Navy (SLN). “The seizing of 101 kg of heroin at sea off
the coast of Sri Lanka is a demonstration of the excellent cooperation
and coordination between the PNB and SLN. It also highlights the volume
of drugs that is being trafficked by sea and therefore the importance of
enhancing maritime law enforcement capacity,” Jayasekara said. Bringing
in senior law enforcement officials from the Indian Ocean region, the
UNODC held a special meeting in Colombo in mid- October, 2015. “Heroin
is the biggest problem in this part of the world,” said Alan Cole, Head
of GMCP of the UNODC, alerting countries of the need to act swiftly.
According to Cole, the amount of heroin trafficked to East Africa was
doubling annually and the rapid increase has continued for the past four
years. “In Sri Lanka, according to the police and the Navy, there was a
substantial increase in the amount of heroin entering Sri Lanka. It does
not mean that all is being consumed in Sri Lanka. It may be
transshipped,” Cole said.
Cocaine and dollar with
reflection on black background. Courtesy: ncadd.org
Explaining the route of illegal drug trafficking, so far figured out
by officials, Cole pointed out that it was not easy to get a complete
picture of what criminals were upto, so that UNODC and law enforcement
officials could put a stop to it.
“According to information gathered so far, most of the drugs were
coming in small boats and at times through air. In South Asia and East
Africa it is trafficked mostly by sea in vessels routinely trailing
around the region,” Cole said.
Heroin, which originates in Afghanistan, reaches the Pakistani and
Iranian coast and trafficked usually by sea through Pakistan and
Afghanistan. Through India it is always cannabis or hashish, he added.
“Most of the drugs coming this way heads to South East Asia – for
consumption in Singapore, Indonesia and several other countries in that
region. Australia was a good market,” he said.
The special discussion held in October last year in Sri Lanka was
mainly to draw out a rough sketch of the route that heroin peddlers use,
by pooling information. Analysing the final output, Cole said that it
now created a much clearer picture.
As Cole further explained there is not a single country in the world
which will be satisfied with their capacities to detect these illegal
shipments. “Most important is to develop an advanced criminal
intelligence network,” he stressed.
Cole said thousands of ships sail through the Indian ocean and drug
trafficking cannot be detected by randomly checking ships on the high
seas. Law enforcement agencies need to be aware of the odd behaviour in
the sea – such as fishing vessels floating for a long time in non
fishing areas in the deep sea.
“It’s not the case, that the absence of the navy patrolling will
prevent illegal drugs from entering the country. The absence of
intelligence is a big problem, Cole pointed out.
He also stressed that countries need to take measures to drop the
demand for heroin, among youth addicted to these drugs, by introducing
substitutes and rehabilitation programs. Among the suspects arrested
were Pakistan and Iranian nationals, who were produced before the courts
by the Police.
A spokesman for the Pakistan High Commission said Pakistan like Sri
Lanka was a victim of transshipment of narcotics and has resolved to
prevent transshipment in its ports.
“It is important to understand that Pakistan does not produce any
narcotics and is enjoying the status of a poppy free country under the
United Nations’ criteria, since 2000-01. Pakistan is also a signatory to
the UN Drug Control Conventions as well as the SAARC Convention on Drug
Control,’ he said.
Explaining the ground situation in Pakistan, the 2430 km-long border
between Afghanistan and Pakistan is virtually impossible to control, and
smuggling across the borders is taking place.
Accordingly, to counter this, Pakistan has a strict monitoring
mechanism enforced by the Anti-Narcotics Force Pakistan (ANF) at all
entry and exit points including 13 international airports and air cargo
terminals, 17 dry ports, three seaports and seven border entry and exit
points. “Pakistan is extending continued support and cooperation to Sri
Lanka to curb transshipment of narcotics. The two countries have signed
an anti-narcotics agreement to counter illicit trafficking of narcotics.
In addition, the Customs departments of the two countries have signed
cooperation agreements,’ he said. Officials of the Consular Division of
the Iranian embassy in Colombo were unavailable for comment, despite
several attempts made by the Sunday Observer.
According to Police Spokesman ASP Ruwan Gunasekara, the PNB was
continuing with the investigation in collaboration with their
counterparts in Pakistan and Iran. “With the arrest of the Sri Lankan
suspects, the Bureau was aware of more links being involved in the drug
racket,” Gunasekara said.