HMCS Toronto destroys narcotics at sea

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Navy News / July 4, 2013

From the end of March 2013 to the beginning June 2013, HMCS Toronto has apprehended more than 1.3 tonnes of heroin and approximately six tonnes of hashish while conducting counter-terrorism operations with a multinational naval task force – Combined Task Force-150. As part of her duties, HMCS Toronto, with her embarked CH-124 Sea King helicopter on board, has not only intercepted illegal narcotics, but has destroyed them as well.

The Indian Ocean region is known for being one of the busiest naval passages in the world. Each year, the area hosts more than 23,000 shipping movements. In spite of all the maritime activity, HMCS Toronto has been consistently successful in disrupting the movement of narcotics in the region.

HMCS Toronto profits from the seasoned skill and experience that each member of the ship’s team brings to the table. In most cases, narcotics are hidden extremely well on the ships, but the boarding party members are trained in finding them. “They have become proven experts in finding well-concealed narcotics in the most unlikely areas,” said Commander Jeff Hamilton, the commanding officer of HMCS Toronto.

As a combat systems engineering officer, Lieutenant (Navy) Greg Walker has seen the boarding party members work firsthand. “Vessels are systematically searched to ensure we do not miss anything. If [anything suspicious] is there, we will find it,” explains Lt(N) Walker.

When narcotics are first apprehended, they are catalogued, inventoried and placed into a secure lock-up onboard HMCS Toronto until the order is given to destroy the narcotics. Once the order is received, the drugs are re-inventoried and readied for disposal.

The methods used to destroy narcotics vary depending on the type of narcotics, the environment and weather. In most cases, drugs are dumped overboard and the crew ensures they sink.

In some cases, they are destroyed using explosives by the naval demolitions team consisting of specially trained officers and boatswains from the deck department.

On  May 24, 2013, the ship utilized their experience to destroy 300 kilograms of heroin using explosives. In this case, they came up with a viable design to destroy the heroin that focused the blast inward from all directions and vaporized the illicit substances in an ensuing fireball. They placed the narcotics in boxes, sealed them and destroyed them on a raft.

Safety is the number one priority. Until the raft was off the ship and ready to be initiated, the number of personnel on deck was kept at a minimum and explosives and fuses remained separate.

Prior to the detonation on  May 24,, a series of checks were made using airborne surveillance, verifying visually from the surface and listening to underwater sound systems to ensure no marine life was near the demolition site or other vessels were in the area. These are standard procedures to ensure environmental stewardship.

Because the blast itself vaporized the contents, there was very little debris. “Given the raft composition and design, along with the blast design, very little risk exists of contaminating the environment and sea life with the narcotics. The narcotics are completely consumed in the explosion,” explains Cdr Hamilton.

Nevertheless, shortly following each demolition operation, a small team is sent using the ship’s rigid hull inflatable boat  to verify that no plastic or debris is left floating on the surface. On  May 24, everything was consumed in the explosion – mission success.

Drug interceptions are one of many operations performed by HMCS Toronto. Narcotics smuggling in the Arabian Sea and the surrounding region is a recognized source of funding for terrorist organizations. Destroying the narcotics is the final step in ensuring that drugs funding terrorist organizations do not make it to the intended recipients.

As Cdr Hamilton puts it, “the interception of illicit narcotics sends a powerful message to terrorist organizations that the world’s sea lines of communication will not be a freeway for sustaining the financial capital for terrorist activity and organizational growth.”

The work of HMCS Toronto demonstrates the international community’s intolerance for misuse of international waters.