Fears of Sri Lanka turning into the new hub of international drugs trade

By Siva Parameswaran

The continued seizure of Sri Lankan vessels with huge quantities of contraband has set alarm bells ringing among Indian security officials.

This has been further intensified with the seizure of three Sri Lankan boats off the coast of Minicoy in the Lakshadweep islands in end March with a massive haul of drugs.

Following this, top Indian officials have shared information from the investigation with the Sri Lankan defence secretary and former army strongman General Kamal Gunaratne, sources on condition of anonymity told JDS.

A high-profile Indian team is likely to visit Sri Lanka soon.

Indian officials say they have also seized ‘incriminating documents’ revealing an ‘external hand’ in the whole operation and have alerted their Sri Lankan counterparts of what they called a ‘externally sponsored narco-terrorism’ flourishing in the island nation.

Sleeper cells

According to sources privy to the operation, ‘the incriminating documents’ reveal the source of the catch, its operating route, maps about distribution network and some names.

“The external agency has created sleeper cells in Sri Lanka, which we fear is becoming the new hub of international drugs trade" the source told JDS.

Arabian sea has now become the new hot bead of the global narcotics route and mid-sea and transfer of contraband into shipping vessels being the most preferred way of smuggling.

The recently intercepted Sri Lankan fishing boat-Ravihansi carrying 300 kilograms of heroin, five AK-47 assault rifles and thousand rounds of ammunition is now being held in an Indian Coast Guard (ICG) post in Vizhinjam on the outskirts of Trivandrum-the capital of the south Indian state of Kerala.

The contraband is valued at an estimated street value of 400 million dollars.

Investigation by the Indian Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) have revealed that the heroin and arms were loaded from Chabahar port in Iran and handed over to the Sri Lankan fishing boat-‘Ravinhansi’- mid sea near Lakshadweep.

The ‘master boat- Ravinhansi’ was accompanied by two other boats-Chaturani 06 and Neeliya

“This seizure also unveils the nexus between narcotics trafficking and extremist elements,” the NCB said in their statement.

Security analysts say drug lords operating out of gulf countries find it easier to operate in the Arabian sea and Sri Lanka is fast becoming the ‘storage and transit point’ for the muliti-billion dollar contraband trade.

Sri Lankan police seized more than 1600 Kgs of heroin last year according to its police spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana.

Two large scale seizures were done off the Lakshadweep coast in March by the Indian Coast Guard and both had a Sri Lankan connection.

Five in custody

Earlier in March this year the ICG intercepted three Sri Lankan vesseles suspected to be part of an international drug smuggling racket. The vessesls Aakarsha Duwa, Chaturani-03 and Chaturani-08 were detained along with 19 crew members.

Akarsha Duwa with a Maritime Mobile Service Identity (MMSI) 98788158 was tracked through radio frequency which tried to speed into international waters but could not match the power of the ICG vessel which pursued them and dumped over 250 Kgs of Heroin and the satellite phone into the sea.

Indian officials say that one ‘Sanjay Anna’ said to be operating out of Dubai is the Kingpin of the operation relating to Akarsha Duwa and Ravihansi.

Preliminary investigations were held under tight security and ‘videographed’ after six Sri Lankan crew members of 'Ravihansi' — LY Nandana, HKGB Daspriya, AHS Gunasekara, SA Senarath, T Ranasinghe and D Nissanka have been remanded to custody and lodged in the Neyyatankara sub jail, while the two boats are in the custody of the ICG.

Apart from Akarsha Duwa and Ravihansi the other four boats along with their crew have been released for ‘want of sufficient evidence’.

A report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) says over the past decade Sri Lanka has become a hotspot for heroin smuggling and transit.

“Over the past decade, Sri Lanka has been used as a trans-shipment point for heroin from South West Asia and India to other destinations outside of the subcontinent. From even a cursory examination of the arrest and seizure statistics it is evident that, with only a fraction of the region’s population and modest seizure volumes, Sri Lanka accounts for a disproportionately large number of arrests. Such arrests are heavily skewed towards heroin”.

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) conducts Visit, Board, Search and Seizure (VBSS) course with Sri Lanka navy under its Global Maritime Crime Programme (GMCP) to counter maritime crime in Sri Lanka.



Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

  • JDS is the Sri Lankan partner organization of international media rights group, Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The launching of this website was made possible by the EU’s European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), of which Reporters Without Borders is a beneficiary.