India’s west coast is new route for drugs to the West

Rajnish Mishra | Aug 17, 2019 | 7 min read


By Rajnish Mishra


Gujarat’s western coastline has seemingly become the new route for drug trafficking into India and onward to western destinations. Since July last year, 2200 kg of Heroin worth more than Rs 6000 crores belonging to Pakistan and Afghanistan based drugs cartels, who are also suspected of having 'terror funding' links, has been seized by different Indian agencies including the Coast Guard, Anti Terrorist Squad (ATS) and Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI).

A senior officer of the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB), who was involved in the investigation that led to these seizures said the drugs had been processed in Pakistan. “Opium from Afghanistan is taken to Pakistan, processed into heroin and brought to Gwadar and other ports to be taken up to international waters in speed boats or other vessels,” said the NCB official. “The money from this trade is used for terror activities and even the army and intelligence agencies of Pakistan take a share from it. All seizures on Indian borders, sea and land, are directly or indirectly connected to Pakistan,” he said.

Given its 1600 Km coastline and the hundreds of unmanned jetties along it, Gujarat has become an easy entry point for Pakistani drug cartels. Based on interrogation of those arrested, SP Himanshu Shukla of the Gujarat ATS said “due to tightening of the noose by international authorities including the American Navy on the other traditional drug trafficking sea routes including the one around Iran, Gujarat has now become their favourite”. As was evident by seizures on four consecutive days beginning June 1 by the Border Security Force (BSF) which found packets of Heroin worth Rs 50 crore in the marshy creek area off Kutch district bordering Pakistan.

A recent major success for the Coast Guard was on May 23 when it intercepted a Pakistani boat Al Madina, with a crew of six, off Jakhau in Gujarat close to the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) and recovered more than 200 kg of narcotic drugs. Interrogation of the Pakistani Master of the boat revealed that they had brought about 330 kgs of drugs into Indian Territorial Waters, said a DRI official. When the Coast Guard boat challenged the Pakistani crew, they starting dumping the packets overboard. The Coast Guard were still able to recover 194 packets weighing roughly 218 kg.

The same boat had earlier made a similar journey without getting caught. On that trip, Al Madina departed Mahadi port in Balochistan on May 10 with its load of drugs. Delayed by bad weather, it reached its Indian destination on May 12 but the intended recipient failed to show. After waiting two days, on the directions of their Pakistani handler, Al Madina returned to Pakistan and buried the 330 kgs of heroin at Petiyani Creek. They then again sailed for India from Ibrahim Haidari Port in Karachi on May 18, having changed most of the earlier crew and having retrieved the buried consignment. But this time, they were nabbed by the Indian Coast Guard.

A month earlier, the Anti Terrorist Squad (ATS) of Gujarat police had seized five kg of Methamphetamine worth Rs 24 crore from a house in Pahadganj area of Delhi based on information given by two people, Mohammed Abdul Salaam Kunni, 47 of Kasargod, Kerala and Niyamat Khan Ahmedzai, resident of Logar Province, Afghanistan, nabbed in connection with the seizure of around 100 kg Heroin worth Rs 500 crore from a burning boat off  Porbandar coast on March 26. An ATS official said the drug consignment had been brought from Pakistan by nine Iranian smugglers who were on board and were taken into custody.

The seizure of the boat was a result of a joint operation of Anti-Terrorist Squad, the Coast Guard and Marine Task Force in a high risk operation. The boat’s crew tried to burn the drugs which set the boat on fire. But the ATS and coast guard managed to seize around 100 kg of heroin and nab all nine crew members. The boat, however, could not be saved. Investigation revealed that a person in Pakistan named Hamid Malik had handed over the Heroin to them at Gwadar port.

The seizure of drugs off the Gujarat coast from boats setting sail from Pakistan ports has been a regular occurrence since July last year. In August last year, investigators learnt that 305 kg of heroin worth over Rs 900 crore was being transported from Gujarat to Punjab in trucks laden with cumin seeds. Five people were arrested in this connection, though the main link between Indian smugglers and Pak based cartel, one Simranjjeet Singh Sandhu, who is also suspected to have terror links, is still at large. Gujarat ATS chief Shukla said that in the case pertaining to the smuggling of heroin to northern states, there was definite information about terror links.

In October last year, the ATS arrested another accused in this case, Manzoor Ahmed Mir (45), a native of Badgam in Kashmir who allegedly had links with terror outfit Jaish-E-Mohammed. Manzoor apparently had provided the money and had also visited Unjha, the spice hub of Gujarat, thrice. One of the arrested, Aziz Bhaghadh of coastal Sodsala village of Devbhoomi-Dwarka district, told investigators that the drugs had been smuggled from Pakistan via Dubai sea route to Mandvi in Kutch, then sent to the spice hub town of Unjha in Mehsana district of North Gujarat from where it was smuggled to Punjab hidden in trucks laden with cumin seeds. Others arrested in this case include Arshad Sotta alias Raju Dubai, a native of Mandavi in Kutch, one of the links between the Pakistani suppliers and Indian buyers, who was nabbed near Sonauli on the Nepal border in October and Nazir Ahmed Thaker nabbed from Anantnag district of Jammu and Kashmir. He had visited Unjha to arrange transport the heroin to Punjab.

But the biggest drug haul off the Gujarat coast was in July last year when the Coast Guard seized 1500 kg of heroin worth around Rs 4500 crores from an old foreign merchant vessel M V Henry which was being brought to Alang ship-breaking yard. The heroin had been concealed in a horizontal pipe on the top of the vessel. An NCB official involved in this recovery said the heroin in the ship was from Pakistan. Those ship’s crew of eight said they used Thuraya satellite phones to talk their handlers in Pakistan.

The NCB official said that drugs were also smuggled from Bandar Abbas port in South Iran along with petroleum fuel illegally sent out of the country in the wake of the international restrictions. The Pakistani cartel and their Iranian and West African counterparts used routes like the Gulf of Oman to Europe. But due to the vigilance of the combined maritime task forces of the west, especially the US and Australian Navy, it has become very difficult to use those routes. Now the Pakistani cartels try to reach western countries via India and prefer to use the Gujarat coast.

A bumper opium crop of around 10000 tons in Afghanistan this year, the highest in recent times, has led to the surge in smuggling cases. “We only know about the larger seizures,” said the NCB official. “If a fishermen brings five kg of heroin along with 500 kg of fish in his ship, it is very difficult to catch him. Despite the presence of Coast Guard and Navy, it is not possible to track all the boats especially Indian fishing boats”.


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