Two French Navy warships seized more than 1,000 kilograms of heroin, hashish and methamphetamine valued at U.S. $38 million from two vessels in the western Indian Ocean in March 2023 as part of a long-running European Union maritime security mission.
The illegal drugs were interdicted under the EU Naval Force (EUNAVFOR) Somalia’s Operation Atalanta, which includes anti-piracy and anti-trafficking patrols, search and rescue missions, delivering humanitarian assistance and ensuring safe passage for vessels operating with the United Nations’ World Food Programme and the African Union Mission in Somalia, according to EUNAVFOR.
The French Navy amphibious warship Dixmude and frigate La Fayette were on a mission off the Horn of Africa when they detained two dhows, sailing ships used along Indian Ocean coasts, which were not flagged to any nation. Sailors used an S-100 surveillance drone during the March 2 investigation, demonstrating “the operational added value of aerial drones,” officials said. (Pictured: The French Navy frigate La Fayette conducts a counternarcotics operation in the western Indian Ocean in March 2023.)
The French vessels are supporting Atalanta with the Italian Navy frigate Carlo Bergamini and the Spanish Navy frigate Reina Sofia, the operation’s flagship.
“The commitment of the contributing countries to the operation, such as France in this case, allows Atalanta to tackle the narcotics flow in the western Indian Ocean in accordance with its mandate,” a EUNAVFOR news release stated. “The counternarcotics executive task of Atalanta targets the illegal activities into which criminal networks have diversified, as well as tackling the sources of funding for violent extremist organizations throughout East Africa, from Mozambique to northern Somalia.”
Since the operation launched in 2008, Atalanta’s air and maritime assets have seized nearly 14,000 kilograms of illegal drugs, detained more than 170 suspected pirates and protected merchant vessels that have delivered about 11 million metric tons of food, including more than 3 million metric tons to Somalia. Non-EU nations — including Montenegro, New Zealand, Norway, Serbia and Ukraine — have also contributed personnel and vessels to Atalanta.
“The cooperation and the quality of the strategic partners that support Atalanta’s mission, as well as the contributing nations to Atalanta, are paramount to its success in the endeavor of providing maritime security and the fight against maritime crime in the Indian Ocean,” EUNAVFOR said.
The Dixmude and La Fayette deployed as part of the French Navy’s Jeanne D’Arc 2023, a long-term operational mission to strategic locations worldwide, according to the French Ministry of the Armed Forces. A week or so after the counternarcotics operation, the vessels joined the French-led multinational naval exercise La Perouse in the Bay of Bengal, conducting anti-aircraft, refueling at sea, cross-landing, air defense and other drills over two days with forces from Australia, Canada, India, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States.
“These trainings make it possible to maintain a high level of interoperability between long-standing partner navies who share the same vision of maritime security issues in the Indo-Pacific region,” a ministry news release stated. “This contributes to the preservation of an international order based on maritime law and multilateralism.”
IMAGE CREDIT: FRENCH MINISTRY OF THE ARMED FORCES