The Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre – Narcotics (MAOC-N) has been tracking an organised crime group that owns a number of ships that have been linked to the transport of narcotics. The operation began with the seizure of 15 tons of cannabis on the ‘Adam’ by Italian customs in April 2013. The crew of six Syrians were arrested for international drug trafficking.
Recently, several more seizures have taken place, one with 40 tons of cannabis – the largest maritime seizure. This seizure was on the merchant vessel ‘Aberdeen’, and six crew members were arrested, mostly from Syria, with others from the Middle East and North Africa region. This seizure was followed by another shipment of 30 tons, seized in Italian waters, the ‘Just Noran’.
In March, there was also a series of large seizures. The ‘Mayak’, boarded in Spanish waters near Malaga had 15 tons of cannabis, which had only just been loaded. Eight Syrians were arrested. This was the fourth seizure in a week, with others having between 13 and 18 tons of cannabis. Law enforcement view these seizures as part of a new route, with mid sea cargo transfers common.
The presence of Syrian crew members also aligns with arguments that the Syrian conflict is becoming increasingly criminalised. Although the criminal economy initially faciliated the surivival of both civilians and armed groups by bringing in food, fuel, weapons and other supplies, Syrian based organised crime groups are now active in many areas, including drug trafficking.