SBS Drug Interdiction Operations
Towards the end of the 20th century, the role of the SBS was expanded to include anti-drug smuggling operations. The unit had spent years developing the dangerous art of storming hostile ships at sea for the Maritime Counter-Terrorist role. The increasing likelihood of armed smugglers being prepared to protect their cargos with force meant that Customs & Excise needed suitably trained armed support on interception missions.
The following are accounts of some known SBS drug busts.
23rd November 1992
In its first known operation of this kind, the SBS assisted the Met's firearms team, S019, in making the bust. 'Fox Trot Five' a 300 tonne utility vessel suspected of carrying drugs from Columbia, had traveled up the Thames and moored by a London warehouse. Both the ship and the warehouse had been under police surveillance. Eventually, several suspects were observed handling suspicious cargo in the warehouse.
It was then that the police decided to move in. As a JCB rammed through the front gates of the warehouse yard, followed by armed police and Customs officials, 2 RIBs carrying SBS and S019 officers accelerated across the Thames. Using caving ladders. the SBS & S019 boarded Fox Trot Five. Whilst the SBS secured the bridge, S019 officers searched the rest of the ship. Fox Trot Five was empty - no crew or illicit materials were on board. Their colleagues on dry land had better luck, however. 1.1 tonnes of Cocaine worth £200 million was found in the warehouse.
The success of the operation formed strong bonds between the SBS, Police and Customs & Excise; a partnership that would result in a number of further operations.
5th May 1997
This was a difficult operation for the SBS, as several of the suspected smugglers were serving and ex Royal Marines, including at least one coxswain that had been attached to the SBS. These men knew Royal Navy tracking and SBS ship boarding procedures well and the fear was that would be able, willing and prepared to repel boarders. In addition, it was believed that vital information on SBS movements were being leaked from within the organization and any anti-drug operation would have to be disguised as an exercise.
UK customs had several suspected members of the smuggling ring under surveillance. They were believed to be using a 277 tonne, Maltese-registered ship, the Simon de Danser, to smuggle cannabis from Morocco to the UK. A contingent of SBS was put aboard the Royal Navy Type 42 destroyer, HMS York, which shadowed the suspect vessel for 5 weeks.
With the ship off the coast of Portugal, Customs made the controversial decision to intercept it. HMS York launched the SBS raiding party on several RIBs. SBS commandos, followed by Customs Officers stormed the Simon de Danser. Leaping from their RIBs onto the deck of the ship, the SBS took the bridge and then cleared the crew compartments, using flash-bang stun grenades. The crew, including the Marines, were taken by complete surprise and were arrested without putting up any resistance. Cannabis with an estimated street value of 14.5 million pounds was found on board.
Despite the success of the operation itself, all those arrested were later set free following their trial when the defense successfully argued that there was no proof that the drug-laden ship was on course for British shores.
The ill-starred attempt to smash a cannabis trafficking ring
(Telegraph Newspaper Report)
- The Caribbean
The SBS carried out a number of counter-narcotic operations against smugglers in the Caribbean.
Navy snipers seize £40m of cocaine off Barbados
SBS in Caribbean Drug Raids