Tag Archives: Narcotics

Cruise ship drug smuggling

Dr G Shreekumar Menon

We live in an age and in a society that has become addicted to luxuries and enjoyment. Young children are being pampered and mollycoddled without any limits by their parents. Man youngsters are leading, what is known as a ‘champagne lifestyle’, enjoying life to the hilt, splurging on expensive lifestyles, and impulse buying. We are seeing a new generation of youngsters getting used to a lifestyle of never-ending parties, eating exotic foods at expensive restaurants, splurging on imported fast cars, high-speed bikes, branded perfumes, branded clothing and of course sexy females. Social media is constantly promoting the new products flooding the market. But what these youngsters fail to realize is that life cannot be just one long story of luxurious experiences. All these extravagant habits need a constant infusion of funds. The day the funds dry up, the fabulous life style simply evaporates. Only one luxurious habit adheres faithfully- the esoteric consumption of narcotic drugs, that will send the person finally to jail, or hospital or grave.

Daily we watch on TV and read in the media, the arrests of many youngsters, film stars, fashion models and many others who have never done a decent day’s work in their life. Their decadent lifestyles will ensure that in the coming decades we are going to witness a large number of middle-aged people who are addicted to strong narcotic drugs.

Youngsters are on the look-out for safe hideouts to enjoy their drug consumption habit. Remote resorts, houseboats, jungle resorts and currently in the news is are cruise ship. India does not have many cruise ships plying, and the cost of a trip is pretty expensive. But it is a safe location where revellers can pursue their merry making away from the prying eyes of the law.

The Cruise ship that was raided and drugs seized by Narcotocs Control Bueau (NCB)

The current case of a rave party on a cruise ship and the alleged involvement of a son of a prominent film star, has put the spotlight on cruise ship parties. Drugs reported to have been seized by Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) are multiple banned drugs such as cocaine, MDMA (commonly known as ecstasy), mephedrone and charas
during the raid.

Cruise ships cross international and national jurisdictions, visiting many different ports on their voyage, hence are ideal for holding discreet drug parties, as travellers are in a vacation mood and eager for enjoyment and entertainment. Drug traffickers place drug couriers on board the cruise ship, and what better choice than glamourous models and starlets.

Cruise ships are routinely used for a variety of smuggling and illegal activities. Though they operate in a controlled environment and all passengers, crew, baggage and luggage are screened prior to boarding, searching for contraband drugs is like looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack.

Though cruise lines are monitored by national and international security and law enforcement authorities to ensure passenger security, detection of contraband by physical checks is extremely difficult. Screening of luggage is done by a variety of methods including X-ray, magnetometer, and K9 (Police Dogs), but these are not fool-proof.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) also has substantial guidelines to prevent smuggling, but these are all violated across the globe. Drug smuggling by cruise ships is a low-cost, high-risk and potentially high-reward business model. The concealment possibilities on board a cruise liner and a container cargo vessel is limitless. Common places of concealment are vessel’s anchor compartment, ship hulls, vents along ship hulls, water inlets, fuel tanks, engine room, propellers, and store room. Containers filled with drugs are attached to the bottom of the ship hulls with rope so that illicit loads may be cut off at high sea if Customs authorities or Coast Guard get too close.

When cruise ships are used to smuggle drugs, it is very plausible that the crew may have no idea whatsoever that drugs are on board. Port staff may be involved, such as a stevedore agent who have access to many parts of the vessel and can move around without raising suspicion. Glamour girls and girls from the entertainment industry can act as perfect peddlers on board the ship as it will not arouse any suspicion.
Professional traffickers often target crew members and befriend them and lure them to trafficking in drugs.

Ship crew are much preferred by drug- traffickers, as they have specific access to many sensitive hiding places on board, for example tanks, enclosed spaces and storerooms. Machinery spaces are most suitable for secreting illicit material. Even if the crew member is not the actual courier, they can facilitate the passage of drugs on and off the ship.

Customs check of shipping vessels is a highly specialized job. All major Customs formations in India have a Rummaging & Intelligence department, which is tasked with the responsibility of checking all ocean-going vessels. In a typical rummage, the entire suspect vessel/ship has to be thoroughly searched for prohibited and restricted goods (viz. drugs, arms & ammunitions, counterfeit currency, pornographic materials, seditious literature and other goods which have not been declared), which have been concealed in various parts of the ship/vessel which include the engine room, the bridge, officers and crew quarters, cargo hatches, lockers, life boats, and panelling of cabins. The officers of the rummaging team have in law full access to each part of the ship/vessel and have the right to break open and search any place, box, etc. to which the access is denied or obstructed. However, it is not possible to do a hundred per cent check of an entire ship, whether cruise or cargo. Reliable information from an authentic source is needed for doing any detailed examination.

Drug couriers are known as ‘Mules’ among enforcement agencies. There is an increasing trend all over the globe to employ glamour girls, film stars and fashion models as mules. The advantage is that they tend to breeze through all checks because of their glamour aura. If they are VIP’s they are ushered through after a cursory check. Drug smuggling is a long and continuous occurrence and the endless battle against it will go on.

What should be more worrying for enforcement agencies is the prospect of weapons smuggling using celebrities and cruise ships. While examples of weapons smuggling on cruises are still not common, terror groups will certainly explore this new avenue.

Our enforcement agencies need to be strengthened and be on high alert.

The author Dr G Shreekumar Menon, IRS (Rtd) Ph. D (Narcotics), is

  • Former Director General National Academy of Customs Indirect Taxes and Narcotics, and Multi-Disciplinary School of Economic Intelligence India
  • Fellow, James Martin Centre for Non-Proliferation Studies, USA.
  • Fellow, Centre for International Trade & Security, University of Georgia, USA 
  • Public Administration, Maxwell School of Public Administration, Syracuse University, U.S.A.
  • AOTS Scholar, Japan

Dr G Shreekumar Menon can be contacted at shreemenon48@gmail.com

Can ocean surveillance and patrolling curb drug-trafficking?

Dr G Shreekumar Menon

The Arabian Sea has been one of the many avenues for the rapid rise of global trade and services butconversely has also been a ready pathway for the actionof many transnational organised crime groups. Curbing these transnational groups has been a crucial priority for both coastal and landlocked States across the globe as they pose a threat not only to national security but also to the legal trade and commerce across the globe.

Majority of the illicit activities at sea are usually inter-linked with the regular licit traffic. Hence it isextremely difficult to detect such type of cases.

Let us, for example, visit and traverse the route of the recent Rupees 21,000/ crores seizure effected at Mundra Port, by Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI), which also happens to be the world’s largest seizure of drugs. Information presently disclosed in public domain indicates that the contraband emanated from Kandahar in Afghanistan from a company named Hassan Hussain Limited. It made its initial foray into the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas, by the land route. From there the
journey began to Mundra Port in Gujarat, India, declared as ‘talc stones. The intended recipient was Aashi Trading Company in Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh.

Let us explore this route to understand the security architecture prevailing, and the likely legal impediments that a container cargo containing contraband will have to encounter.

Kandahar is under the direct control of the Taliban, and the consignment would have therefore proceeded to the Iranian Port of Bandar Abbas with minimal checks and balances. The Taliban would have extorted their commission, and allowed the consignment to proceed to the Port of Bandar Abbas. The Taliban, would have for sure, known about the clandestine cargo, and its intended final destination.

Bandar Abbas Port is an entirely different theatre of operation. Iran’s main naval base is located at Bandar Abbas. The complex hosts a missile site where Chinese- built cruise missiles such as the CSS-N-2 Silkworm, HY-2 Seersucker and C-801 Sardine are tested, assembled, manufactured, and upgraded. The Revolutionary Guard Corps protects the complex with HAWK, SA-5 and SA-2 air-defense missiles.

Intelligence observers estimate that Iran generally keeps eight SS-N-22 Sunburn anti-ship missile batteries stationed near Bandar Abbas, as well as at least 12 Silkworm anti-ship missile sites around Bandar Abbas and Kharg Island. The military complex also houses Iran’s fleet of Chinese-made Houdong fast missile boats. Experts estimate that Iran has armed approximately twenty of these craft with Saccade C-802 missiles. It is into this high-security environment that the contraband entered smoothly, we have to presume that it was not detected at all, thereby putting a big question mark on the level of security prevailing there.

It is an entirely different story if there was active connivance of the authorities in routing the consignment to India.

Shahid Rajaee Port, Bandar Abbas, has a Customs facility spanning a massive area of 4800 hectares of land. This port has Iran’s largest container terminal. The port is a Special Economic Zone due to its strategic location. It has connections to 80 well-known ports with 35 container lines. All terminals at Shahid Rajaee Customs have up-to-date facilities and boasts of 40 separate docks.

The contraband consignment encountered no problems whatsoever at the high-security Bandar Abbas Port and through the massive Customs facility without any hitch.

The next leg of the journey would cover the Gulf of Hormuz, and thereafter into the Arabian Sea.

The Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea are intensely patrolled by navies of various countries, as well as joint patrolling.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982 (UNCLOS), sets out the legal framework applicable to activities in the oceans, including countering illicit activities at sea. On 27 November 1997 the International Maritime Organization (IMO) adopted Resolution A.872 (20), which contains Guidelines for the Prevention and
Suppression of the Smuggling of Drugs, Psychotropic Substances and Precursor Chemicals on ships engaged in international maritime traffic. This was revoked and replaced by the Revised Guidelines for the Prevention and Suppression of the Smuggling of Drugs, Psychotropic Substances and Precursor Chemicals on Ships engaged in International Maritime Traffic. In addition, IMO works closely with other international
organizations such as the World Customs Organization (WCO) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), on matters concerning drug smuggling on board ships.

The Djibouti Code of Conduct (2017) covers illegal maritime activities in the Western Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden. These activities include: (a) Human trafficking and smuggling, (b) Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, (c) Trafficking in narcotics and psychotropic substances. (d) Arms trafficking, (e) Illegal trade in wildlife, (f) Crude oil theft, and (g) Illegal dumping of toxic waste. A revision was signed in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on 12 January 2017 and it became known as the Jeddah Amendment to Djibouti Code of Conduct 2017 (DCoC). So far 16 of the 20 DCoC signatory States have signed the Jeddah Amendment. They are: Comoros, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Jordan, Kenya, Madagascar, Maldives, Mauritius, Mozambique, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Seychelles, Somalia, United Arab Emirates, United Republic of Tanzania and Yemen.

India has joined the Djibouti Code of Conduct/ Jeddah Amendment, as Observer, along with Japan, Norway, UK and the US as Observers following the high-level meeting of the Djibouti Code of Conduct/ Jeddah Amendment (DCOC/JA) held virtually on 26 August 2020.

Under the Code, which became effective from the date it was signed, signatories declared their intention to co-operate to the fullest possible extent in the repression of transnational organized crime in the maritime domain, maritime terrorism, and other illegal activities at sea.

In supporting the implantation of the code of conduct, IMO has developed strong partnerships with key implementing partners including the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL), the European Union; United States Africa Command (US AFRICOM), Canadian Coast Guard, the One Earth Future Foundation’s Stable Seas project, the Institute for Security International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Mohammed Bin Nayef Academy of Marine Science and Security Studies (Saudi Arabia), Djibouti Regional Training Centre, British Peace Support Team (Africa), and NATO Maritime Interdiction Operations Training Centre (NMIOTC, Greece).

In addition to the above, there are platforms like the Indian Ocean Forum on Maritime Crime of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Further, the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) is a multinational maritime partnership, which exists to uphold the International Rules-Based Order (IRBO).

It is a 33-nation coalition of Combined Maritime Forces and is based in Bahrain established to monitor, board, inspect, and stop suspect shipping to pursue the “Global War on Terrorism”.

Countries presently contributing to CTF-150 include Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Pakistan, Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States. Other nations that have participated include Italy, India, Malaysia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal, Singapore, Spain, Thailand and Turkey. The command of the task force rotates among the different participating navies, with commands usually lasting between four and six months. The task force usually comprises 14 or 15 ships.

Inspite of such a formidable force operating in the Arabian sea, this massive contraband consignment sailed through effortlessly, to reach its destination at Mundra, Gujarat State, India.

The smooth transit through a huge phalanx of naval forces is because the patrolling at sea is to interdict unidentified vessels. The targets are usually small fishing vessels, and small craft. which may be carrying contraband. The big container ships and cargo ships ply without interruption, as they have authorized permissions and identities. It is these vessels containing licit cargo, that are made use of by terror groups and traffickers to clandestinely carry contraband cargo. It is simply impossible for any Navy to apprehend a Container Ship, and physically check the cargo. Hence the contraband cargo has a smooth sail from the country of origin to the point of destination.

The next and final entry is into the Port of Mundra. India has around 15 lakh containers and this itself is not sufficient for our import-export traffic. There is heavy pressure on the Ministry of Shipping and the Ministry of Finance – Customs, for quick clearance. A shipload of containers is expected to be cleared within 16 to 24 hours.

In FY 2020-21, Mundra port alone handled 144.4 million tons (MT) of cargo. The port handles dry cargo, liquid cargo, crude cargo, and containers. Mundra port is also a special economic zone (SEZ). SEZs are designated duty-free enclaves in India where the Indian Customs law does not apply. It was from this Mundra port that on 16 September 2021 the DRI, on prior information, seized the world’s biggest seizure of narcotic drugs valued at a mind-boggling Rupees twenty-one thousand crores. This seizure has raised many legal issues apart from the threat to national security. A total of eight persons including four Afghan nationals, one Uzbek and three Indians have been arrested so far. A special Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Court in Gujarat has directed the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) to investigate several aspects of this case including the manner in which the Port is administered. Many issuesrelating to national security, cargo clearance modalities, Customs checks, including coastal and blue water patrolling will come up for the Court’s detailed scrutiny in the coming months.

Concealment in containers is happening very intelligently, taking advantage of the fact that only 2% to 10% of containers worldwide undergo inspection.

Only 5% of all containers shipped to US ports are physically inspected. This figure is estimated to be still lower in Europe. In India also, 100% check of containers is impossible. The thrust of the Government and all stakeholders on expeditious clearance of cargo, results in low level of examination and acceptance of declarations by importers at face value. And people wonder why there is trouble eliminating drug trafficking, arms trafficking and human trafficking.

Had it not been for the timely information received by the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) and the prompt interception, the consignment would have smoothly proceeded to its final destination –
Vijayawada. The fact that none of the enforcement and intelligence agencies from Mundra Port to Vijayawada had any inkling of the contraband likely to transit through their jurisdictions, raises several security questions and concerns.

From the month of March 2021 there has been a spurt in the movement of narcotics in the Arabian sea region. The American exit from Afghanistan is reckoned as a major factor contributing to this trend. The gradual easing of COVID-19 related restrictions with consequent increase in maritime traffic density, is also another contributor of this trend. Major drugs seized included Methamphetamine, Cannabis, Heroin and Khat. The seizure of large quantities of methamphetamine during the recent months remains a concern for the region, including a single seizure of 55,836 kg by Omani authorities. Indian Coast Guard made twin drug seizures, and in one case seized five AK 47 rifles with 1000 rounds of ammunition, apart from drugs, from foreign fishing vessels, off Minicoy Island, Lakshadweep, India.

The Government needs to have a comprehensive reviewof the existing maritime patrolling at sea and the quality and quantity of Customs checks at various ports, including those designated as Special Economic Zones.

The author Dr G Shreekumar Menon, IRS (Rtd) Ph. D (Narcotics), is

  • Former Director General National Academy of Customs Indirect Taxes and Narcotics, and Multi-Disciplinary School of Economic Intelligence India
  • Fellow, James Martin Centre for Non-Proliferation Studies, USA.
  • Fellow, Centre for International Trade & Security, University of Georgia, USA 
  • Public Administration, Maxwell School of Public Administration, Syracuse University, U.S.A.
  • AOTS Scholar, Japan

Dr G Shreekumar Menon can be contacted at shreemenon48@gmail.com

Delhi Police busts International narcotics syndicate

Newsroom24x7 Staff

delhi police4New Delhi: A team of Special Cell of Delhi Police has busted an international narcotic syndicate.
Three members of the syndicate including a woman have been arrested with 15 Kg opium in their possession.The International value of recovered opium is estimated to be Rs. 15 crores. Three mobile phones with SIM cards used in drug trafficking have also been confiscated.

The 3-member gang comprised of Musfique Alam aka Babloo (37), Dipti Purtti @ Sumita ( 23) and Rahees (45). A Case (FIR No. 44/2015) was registered on 28 June in this natter under section 18/21 and 29/61/85 NDPS Act, by the Special Cell

The police team that busted the syndicate was led by Inspector Attar Singh, under the supervision of ACP Sandeep Byala. Attar Singh received an input regarding drug trafficking activities of members of this syndicate in Delhi, UP and North Eastern states for the last three months. Sub Inspector Rakesh Kumar along with staff were deputed to collect intelligence in this regard. Discreet surveillance was kept on movements of the members of this syndicate. Three months efforts by police delivered results when an information was received on 28 June. It indicated that two members of this syndicate had collected a big consignment of opium from Nagaland and both would come near ISBT at Kashmiri Gate in Delhi to deliver it to their contact. A raiding party was formed and trap was laid near ISBT, where both two drug suppliers Musfique Alam and Dipti Purtti were apprehended on 28 June evening and 10 kgs opium was recovered from them  (approx. 5 kgs opium from each).

The above case was registered and investigation was taken up. During investigation, both the accused persons were subjected to sustained interrogation upon which they disclosed that they were part of a big international narcotic syndicate and were in trafficking drugs in Delhi and UP from North Eastern states for the last many years. Both disclosed that they procured opium from a person named Chandan of Deemapur. It was also revealed by them that their handler Rahees had also accompanied them upto Delhi from Bareilly, UP on the day of their arrest and he too is having some opium in his possession. They also disclosed that Rahees would meet them near GPO, Kashmiri Gate at about 11 pm. Dipti Purtti is the carrier of Chandan’s deal and Babloo is the carrier of Rahees and Amir. Both disclosed about their network in detail.

Following the disclosure of Musfique Alam, Rahees was apprehended at about 11 pm near GPO, Kashmiri Gate, Delhi and 5 kgs opium was recovered from his possession, taking the total seizure to 15 kgs. Accused Rahees admitted that he used to get supply of opium from Chandan of Deemapur, Nagaland through these two carriers. Musfique Alam admitted that he was engaged in illegal drug business for the past five years. Musfique Alam aka Babloo had been arrested earlier in cases of auto-lifting in PS Hauz Khas, New Delhi. Accused Rahees too was earlier involved in cases of auto-lifting in UP and Delhi. He alongwith Amir was arrested in cases of auto thefts in Ghaziabad, UP back in 2007. In Dasna jail, both met with one Babloo, a drug supplier of UP who lured both to work with him in drug trafficking to earn fast money. Due to their poverty, both fell prey to his trap and got initiated into drug trade with him since five years.

During investigation,, it was revealed that Chandan who was living near Deemapur (Nagaland) is part of a big international narcotic syndicate. He was receiving supply of opium and heroin from neighboring country Myanmar through porus borders near Manipur. Chandan sends opium and heroin to UP and Delhi through his carriers. Dipti Purtti has been working as his carrier for many months. It has also come to notice that notorious drug suppliers of Manipur and Nagaland are sending big consignments of heroin, opium and other contraband to various parts of the country including opium growing areas of Bareilly, Badaun, Barabanki Mandsore & Jhalawar, which means, satets of UP, MP and Rajasthan. The opium and heroin smuggled from Myanmar is quite cheap and of good quality in comparison to opium grown in India and heroin is thereby illegally manufactured from it. This new trend has emerged since past couple of years. Further investigation to identify & arrest the remaining persons is in progress.