Illicit ActivityKey IssuesPartnershipsRegionalSouth Asia

Indian military, law enforcement cooperate to tackle maritime narcotics trade

Mandeep Singh

The trafficking of drugs by sea from Central to South Asia is on the rise, prompting cooperation among India’s Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB), Navy and Coast Guard, and with the navies of neighboring countries.

The maritime capabilities of India’s Armed Forces, particularly its Navy, give Indian law enforcement essential tools to counter seaborne drug smuggling, according to experts, as recent drug seizures reveal.

The NCB and Indian Navy caught maritime drug smugglers off the nation’s southeast coast in an October 2022 joint operation that seized 200 kilograms of narcotics, pictured. With the smugglers in custody and their vessel impounded, the NCB was able to further its investigations into the crime networks involved, helping to disrupt a narcotics smuggling route, India’s Ministry of Defence reported. It was the latest in a series of collaborative raids involving the NCB and either the Navy or Coast Guard.

“The Navy brings a major enhancement to maritime counternarcotics operations, [with] specialized capabilities including maritime navigation technologies and quicker maneuvers compared to the Indian Coast Guard, which is the primary agency for coastal security

In India,” Saneet Chakradeo, a New Delhi-based government policy researcher, told FORUM.

In April 2021, the Navy and NCB seized 200 kilograms of narcotics and arrested five crew members aboard a fishing vessel in the Arabian Sea. The drugs reportedly originated in Iran. A raid by the NCB and Indian Coast Guard the previous month on three vessels hauled in 300 kilograms of heroin along with five AK-47 rifles and 1,000 rounds of ammunition. Several other joint operations in 2021 resulted in drug seizures and arrests, including one in September that fetched over 3,000 kilograms of heroin disguised as talcum powder.

The maritime raids in 2021 also produced intelligence leading to the arrests of eight suspects in the Indian cities of Delhi and Noida, the National Maritime Foundation, a New Delhi-based think tank, reported.

Links between maritime narcotics smuggling and other defense threats have come to light in the recent raids, according to the foundation and Chakradeo.

“Because of the intricate linkages between the international illegal drugs trade and terrorism financing, cooperation between the internal drugs control agency and the Armed Forces assumes importance,” Chakradeo said.

Investigations have revealed that maritime drug trafficking threatens nations in the Indian Ocean Region, which has spurred multilateral cooperation, he said.

“Apprehensions and busts have revealed a sophisticated international drug racket involving entities in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Australia, India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives, thereby making the Indian Ocean a region of particular vulnerability,” he said.

Navy chiefs from India, Madagascar, the Maldives, Seychelles and Sri Lanka agreed in 2021 to increase intelligence and asset sharing to counter maritime narcotics trafficking, Chakradeo said. The Indian Navy has set up an Information Fusion Center with liaison officers from regional partners including Sri Lanka and the Maldives, he added, which “will form the bedrock for international cooperation for tackling the problem on the regional level.”

Mandeep Singh is a FORUM contributor reporting from New Delhi, India.


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