3 Main Points Concerning Drug Smuggling in the Gulf of Aden
Drug smuggling is a major maritime security concern in the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and the Bab Al-Mandab. As piracy has reduced, other crimes such as drug and weapons smuggling, human trafficking and illegal fishing have had more of a focus as concerns. In light of the first drug seizure of the year by the USCGC Emlen Tummell of the Combined Maritime Task Forces in January, this article will go over the problem of drug smuggling in the region.
What Type of Drugs Are Smuggled?
Drug smuggling has different dimensions in the region. Methamphetamine and hashish are the primary drugs seized by maritime forces in the region, but others can also be seized.
For example, Tanzania and Kenya are reported by the UN to be major trafficking destinations on the east coast of Africa. Drugs are then transported north on land and by sea to Uganda, the Gulf and Europe. Illicit opiate produce from Afghanistan and Pakistan also passes through the region. It can be argued that the area is popular for smuggling, given the proximity of terror groups, destabilised regions, corrupt states and so forth. These factors are why piracy, human trafficking and other illicit maritime activities are also common.
Are States Involved?
Yes - Iran has also been accused of sponsoring the drug trade in the region. The benefits the state would gain from this are financial funding for proxy forces and destabilising political adversaries by getting their population hooked on drugs.
"Methamphetamine and hashish are the primary drugs seized by maritime forces in the region"
Captagon, a drug containing fenethylline, a stronger version of amphetamine, is reportedly produced in Hezbollah-controlled areas of Lebanon and by cartels in the Assad-controlled regimes of Syria and then shipped around the Middle East with major seizures taking place in Jordan consistently. Iran is accused of funnelling this product into government-controlled areas of Yemen whilst supplying ballistic missiles, ammunition and explosive materials to the Houthis.
What Is Being Done To Combat The Problem?
Various forces work to combat drug smuggling in the region. Three of the Combined Maritime Forces task force groups, consisting of 34 nations, are used to combat drug smuggling under the umbrella of overall maritime security.
These are CTF 150, CTF 152 and CTF 153, with CTF 151 being reserved for piracy only. It is estimated that the CTF groups seized over $1 billion in drugs since 2021, emphasising the scale of smuggling that takes place. Operation ATALANTA, the EU counter-piracy operation, also has to counter illicit smuggling as one of its main regional tasks. Moreover, the UN and other actors are committed to building the capabilities of the Yemeni and Somali coast guards to be able to stop drug shipments in their exclusive economic zones.
"It is estimated that the CTF groups seized over $1 billion in drugs since 2021"
Overall, drug smuggling is a significant problem in the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and the Bab Al-Mandab. International and local forces are working to stop the problem, but the estimated value of seizures will pale compared to the amount that makes it to their destination. In 2023, maritime forces will be looking to repeat their successes with piracy on other maritime crimes in the region.