Australian navy seizes heroin worth over $200 million near east Africa

NAIROBI (REUTERS) - An Australian Navy warship patrolling Indian Ocean waters seized heroin worth US$158 million (S$206 million) near east Africa this week, a navy official said on Thursday, one of the region's biggest heroin hauls in recent years.

East Africa has become a key export route for Afghan heroin destined for Europe but regional maritime forces, short of funds and anti-trafficking expertise, have struggled to stem the flow of narcotics through their territorial waters.

Crew from the frigate HMAS Toowoomba boarded a dhow in international waters on Monday and confiscated 388kg of heroin in hessian bags after an intelligence tip-off, the 30-country Coalition Maritime Forces (CMF) naval group said in a statement on its website.

"The teams ashore and onboard the ship provided key pieces of the puzzle which led to this successful intercept," said Cath Hayes, the commanding officer of HMAS Toowoomba.

HMAS Toowoomba was deployed as part of CMF to counter piracy, militancy, smuggling and other illegal activities in an area covering the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, Arabian Gulf, Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Oman.

The CMF did not give the precise location of the seizure but to date most of the major heroin seizures in east Africa took place near Kenya and Tanzania, widely seen as the main gateways for Afghan drugs into east Africa.

In April, another Australian warship near Kenya raided a dhow with 1,023kg of heroin on board, which remains the record heroin haul seized by the CMF in the region.