Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 10 April 2016





Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette


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 iceberg.

The ship transporting the heroin consignment.

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.

Small boats

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:

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.



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