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13th MEU (SOC) Cracks Down on Drug Smuggling

Marine Corps News

Release Date: 1/8/2004

Story by Sgt. Mark P. Ledesma

ABOARD USS PELELIU(January 5, 2004) -- Marines of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), along with Sailors of Expeditionary Strike Group-One, interdicted a dhow bearing an estimated 2,800 pounds of hashish while crossing the North Arabian Sea Dec. 31.

All 15 crewmembers of the dhow were detained and questioned aboard U.S. warships. The crewmembers, along with the confiscated contraband, were later transported to Pakistan, where the vessel was registered, for further legal actions.

According to Col. Michael R. Regner, 13th MEU (SOC) commanding officer, orders to search and seize the vessel came from the U.S. Navy 5th Fleet, which governs U.S. Naval ships conducting operations in the Arabian Gulf, Red Sea, Gulf of Oman and parts of the Indian Ocean.

Allied forces helped to track the dhow as U.S. Naval forces prepared for the interdiction. Vessel Boarding Search and Seizure (VBSS) teams discovered the hashish underneath blocks of ice and in hidden compartments after searching the vessel for 24 hours.

"We knew by the look of some of their (crewmembers') faces that something was up," said Lance Cpl. Mark V. Anderer, Force Reconnaissance, 13th MEU (SOC), who was involved in the VBSS.

After towing the dhow for several miles, a decision was made to destroy it because of the illegal use for which it was employed. Marine and Navy Explosives Ordnance Disposal Technicians with the 13th MEU (SOC) and ESG-1 were tasked with destroying the vessel.

According to Staff Sgt. Jeffrey A. Bratcher, EOD technician, Marine Expeditionary Unit Service Support Group 13, 13th MEU (SOC), the destruction plan for the dhow was for the massive fishing net aboard the vessel to completely sink along with it.

"We just wanted it to go down to bottom, taking the fishing net along so there wouldn't be any navigational problems for any ships passing in the future," he said. According to Bratcher, the sinking of the dhow went exactly as planned.

According to Regner, the successful VBSS mission displayed the ESG and MEU's close relationship in putting together a very lethal package that can stop any type of high seas crime that revolves around drug trafficking, and people and weapon smuggling.

"I think what we've really seen from this is further refinement of the skills the Navy and Marines have put together," he said.

According to Regner, criminals will have to look at a different strategy for drug trafficking.

"It will have an impact on illegal drug trafficking at sea, but there's another consequence to this," said Regner. "The drug traffickers might decide they've got to be more secretive or change their techniques. As they change their (plans), we'll try to remain one step ahead of them. We'll change ours just as quickly as they change theirs."



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