The U.S. Navy and partner forces operating in U.S. 5th Fleet seized more than $193 million worth of illegal drugs in 2021 — racking up a higher total value than the amount confiscated in the preceding four years combined, the Navy said.
U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, U.S. 5th Fleet and Combined Maritime Forces, a maritime coalition comprising 34 nations and headed by the U.S. also seized roughly 8,700 illicit weapons last year, also a significant boost.
The value of the drugs confiscated far exceeds the $51.5 million in illicit drugs seized in 2020, according to NAVCENT spokesman Cmdr. Tim Hawkins. The previous record for total value of drugs seized in the past seven years was $70 million in 2018, he told Navy Times.
The U.S. and partner forces removed nearly three times the number of illicit weapons in 2021 as they did the year before, when approximately 3,000 rifles and machine guns were confiscated, Hawkins said.
Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, commander of NAVCENT, U.S. 5th Fleet and Combined Maritime Forces, attributed the surge to added presence in the area. The Navy and its partner forces routinely conduct maritime security and counter-terrorism operations in 5th Fleet to stymie criminal and terrorist activities and to preserve legitimate shipping transits, the Navy said.
“We have enhanced our presence and vigilance across regional waters,” Cooper said in a Navy news release. “This reflects our continued commitment to confront destabilizing activities that disrupt the rules-based international order which underlies maritime security in the Middle East.”
From mid-July 2021 through the end of the year, U.S. and CMF forces boarded more than 50 vessels believed to be carrying illicit cargo, the Navy said. Those boardings led to 14 narcotics seizures and a massive weapons seizure in December.
The hike in seizures comes amid increased patrols in the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea, according to the Navy.
“We increased regional patrols to enhance detection and deterrence of destabilizing activity in critical waterways,” Hawkins said in an email to Navy Times.
In December, Navy coastal patrol ships Tempest and Typhoon uncovered a stockpile of 1,400 AK-47 assault rifles and 226,600 rounds of ammunition aboard a stateless fishing vessel.
The boat, which was in the North Arabian Sea, had “transited international waters along a route historically used to traffic weapons unlawfully to the Houthis in Yemen,” the Navy said. The weapons were ultimately transferred to the guided-missile destroyer O’Kane and the fishing vessel was sunk after crew and cargo were removed.
Additionally, the guided-missile destroyer Winston Churchill seized thousands of illicit weapons, such as AK-47 assault rifles and heavy sniper rifles, off the coast of Somalia in February.
Three months later, in May, the guided-missile cruiser Monterey seized nearly 3,000 Chinese Type 56 assault rifles and dozens of advanced, Russian-made anti-tank guided missiles from a stateless vessel in the Arabian Sea.