9,300 kg drugs seized in past three years in the Indian Ocean region : The deceptive sugar container! | Sunday Observer

9,300 kg drugs seized in past three years in the Indian Ocean region : The deceptive sugar container!

A container loaded with bags of ‘sugar’

The detection of another 31 kilograms of high end drug cocaine with a market value of nearly Rs.450 M concealed in a sugar container from Brazil once again sounded alarm bells about Sri Lanka becoming a hub in the transhipment of this high end drug from South American countries to Europe.

This is the third detection of such a large consignment of cocaine by the Sri Lankan authorities in recent months, after the Police Special Task Force under the supervision of the Special Anti Narcotic Unit of the Finance Ministry, made a major breakthrough in detecting this cocaine network on 15 June 2016, detecting 80 kg of cocaine concealed in sugar container to be released to the owner by the Customs authorities.

Three people, owner of Amro Sugar Compnay a company importing sugar to Sri Lanka and two wharf clerks who had cleared the documents of the sugar consignment from the Customs were arrested following the detection and are still under remand custody.


Police Narcotics Bureau investigating the cocaine detection in June 2016, once again detected another 301 kilograms of cocaine with a market value of Rs.4.1 billion, hidden inside a sugar container from Brazil. The sugar containers were imported by the same company and was the biggest ever cocaine detection in Sri Lanka, on July 21, 2016.

According to SSP Kamal Silva, Director Police Narcotics Bureau, the detection in Kelaniya Pethiyagoda was also a follow up of the two previous detections, in June and July.

The detection was made when the sugar container imported from Brazil was to be transported to Kandy from the warehouse in Pethiyagoda, Kelaniya.

Following the detections, the Police Narcotic Bureau (PNB) continued its search on suspicious containers, after obtaining court orders, the SSP said.

“The detection on Wednesday evening in Kelaniya, Pethiyagoda is also a result on these ongoing investigations”, the SSP added. He said, this time the detection was made from a sugar stock imported to the country by a different company, and not Amro Sugar Company. He said the PNB is in contact with the United Nations Organisation Office on Drugs and Crimes, unravelling a developing cocaine network using the Asian region as a hub to transport cocaine from the South American region to Europe.

Unbailable offence

He said no arrests have been made so far, on the latest detection, as arresting a suspect without figuring out the real network behind it, would be unfair, as it is an unbailable offence.

According to officials, the mafia behind the cocaine industry using the network based in the Asian region, transporting cocaine directly from South America to Europe is a high risk operation since cargo from South America to Europe have been put under high risk category.

The smaller quantities of cocaine detected from time to time by the authorities may be part of the whole operation, he added.

“They are using the cargo container bound for the Asian region and their networks to transport them to Europe, as Asian countries have not placed cargo from South America under a high risk category, and are using sugar containers, as cocaine and sugar have similarities in content and sometimes cannot be detected in the scanners at the Customs”, the official explained.

They also make use of sugar as the coating for their operations as it is an essential commodity and any delays in releasing them by Customs officials could create an uneasy situation in countries in the Asian region.

However, following the detection of the two consignments from Brazil, the Customs Department have placed cargo from Brazil under high risk category, in Sri Lanka too.

According to news reports published in The Times, investigations similar to the Sri Lankan investigation is now under way in Kenya, subsequent to a British aristocrat being arrested with 99.7 kilograms of cocaine concealed in a sugar container imported from Brazil, detected in Momabasa, Kenya.

Jack Marrian, 31, is facing trial in Nairobi charged with smuggling 99.7kg of cocaine after Kenyan police found drugs in a sea container in Mombasa.

It has now emerged that the shipment of cocaine in question was just a fraction of class A drugs hidden on the ship when it set sail from Brazil, The Times reported.

A Times investigation has found that almost half a tonne of drugs was originally hidden on the boat, MSC Letizia, owned by the Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) when it sailed across the Atlantic in June.

At least two other containers on board MSC Letizia were laden with cocaine when it sailed from Santos, on June 8. In all three cases the drugs were hidden beneath sacks of sugar owned by international commodity traders.


According to this report based on the investigation, the other two containers on board were owned by the Louis Dreyfus Company and have changed ships in Sines, Portugal, and were seized by police in Colombo, Sri Lanka on July 21.

Shanaka Jayasekara, Program Officer, Global Maritime Crime Program (GMCP) of the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC), when contacted by the Sunday Observer, said, the seizure of large volumes of cocaine in the Indian Ocean states such as Sri Lanka and Kenya is a concerning issue.

He said, since June 2016 over 400 kg of cocaine had been seized in Sri Lanka while in Kenya 99 kg of cocaine was detected in July 2016. The modus operandi of the cocaine traffickers in Sri Lanka and Kenya seem to be very similar, which is extremely worrying.

“We are concerned that the cocaine traffickers from South America are now using the heroin networks on the Southern Route in the Indian Ocean, as a new cocaine trafficking route to Europe”, he added.

He said, the Indian Ocean region has been a primary trafficking route for Afghan heroin from the Makran Coast to East Africa and South Asia which is commonly known as the Southern Route. There has been an increase of heroin trafficking on the Southern Route over the last three years. Sri Lanka detected 101kg of heroin in March, Seychelles detected 98 kg in April, and the Combined Maritime Forces have detected over 9,300 kg of heroin on the Indian Ocean, over the last three years.


“In response to this trend, UNODC in partnership with the Government of Sri Lanka convened a high level meeting of Interior Ministers of the Indian Ocean Region on 29 October in Colombo. The meeting was attended by 18 Indian Ocean states with the participation of several Ministers and Special Envoys. The Colombo Declaration adopted at the high level ministerial meeting provided a coordination mechanism for Indian Ocean states to target drug trafficking on the Southern Route”, he said. In the paper titled Drug Trafficking on the Southern Route and Impact on Coastal States, presented at the October 29 meeting in Colombo, Shanaka Jayasekara pointed out, in the central region of the Indian Ocean, several large cocaine seizures have been made in Sri Lanka during 2016.

“There are links between the July 2016 seizures in both Kenya and Sri Lanka. These cocaine consignments had been concealed with sugar in containers that departed the Port of Santos in Brazil. It is believed, the shipping containers for Sri Lanka and Kenya were loaded on the same vessel in Brazil and then transshipped in Europe to South Asia and East Africa”, he pointed out.

At the meeting of Interior Ministers of the Indian Ocean Region to counter Drug Trafficking, held on 29 October, at the BMICH, co-hosted by Sri Lanka and UNODC, Colombo, Sri Lankla, the Ministers discussed the need to develop a regional approach and cooperation to combat the growth in drug trafficking in the Indian Ocean region.

According to the Colombo Declaration adopted at the conference, the Ministers noted with concern the growing level of drug trafficking on the Southern Route proliferating in the Indian Ocean, the disruptions of other trafficking routes, the linkage to other forms of crime, and the destablising effect not only on individual states, but the wider region of the Indian Ocean, where an estimated 9,300 kg of high purity drug has been seized within the past three years.

The Ministers noted, the key attraction of the Southern Route for narcotic trafficking is the lack of jurisdictional authority for enforcement activity on the high seas and/ or difficulty to enforce an effective deterrence mechanism. They stressed the need for coastal states to cooperate more closely on enforcing maritime law, sharing information, and providing mutual legal assistance, including the expansion and development of communication through UNODC’S Indian Ocean Prosecutors Network. The Ministers recognized the need for a coordinated approach through the Southern Route Partnership (SRP) of the Indian Ocean Forum on Maritime Crime (IOFMC) convened by the Global Maritime Crime Program of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, to improve maritime law enforcement, effectiveness and cooperation,and called on littoral states of the Indian Ocean to work towards making the Indian Ocean a “Drug Free Zone”.