Authorities have arrested six drug smugglers and seized 909 kilogrammes of crystal methamphetamine, believed to be destined for Australia, from a fishing trawler south of Koh Samet in the Gulf of Thailand.
The seizure was the culmination of a four-month operation that began with an intelligence report from the National Security Council (NSC), according to Wichai Chaimongkhon, secretary-general of the Narcotics Control Board (NCB).
The NSC had learned that transnational drug traffickers were using medium-sized trawlers to deliver shipments of methamphetamine and heroin, weighing about a tonne, to a large liner in the middle of the Gulf. The deliveries took place in international waters, beyond the reach of Thai law enforcement.
The NCB set up a special task force, in cooperation with the Naval Special Warfare Command or SEALs, which spent four months monitoring the activities of the suspected traffickers, said Mr Wichai.
On Tuesday of this week, team members on a stakeout in Rayong spotted the crew of a trawler loading empty stainless steel barrels, fuel and food. At 8.45 that night, a white pickup truck pulled up and the crew loaded several heavy fertiliser sacks onto the trawler before it set out from shore.
The team began following the boat and intercepted it south of Koh Samet in Rayong province, about 20 nautical miles from shore.
Six suspects were arrested with 909 kilogrammes of crystal methamphetamine seized, Mr Wichai said at a briefing on Thursday at the NCB offices in Din Daeng district of Bangkok.
Officers inspect the fishing trawler on which drugs were seized and six smugglers arrested. (Photo: Narcotics Control Board)
Authorities later searched seven locations — five in Rayong and two in Bangkok. During the search, they seized one fishing trawler, six cars, two motorcycles, bank account passbooks, ATM cards and other assets with a combined worth of at least 5.2 million baht.
Officers also searched a rented house in Rayong that was used as a storage site for drugs. Many empty fertiliser sacks were found there.
During questioning, the suspects admitted to having smuggled the drugs from Bangkok to the fishing trawler in Rayong. A bag of ketamine, for the crew’s personal use, was also found in the vessel.
One of the suspects who was the boat owner said the seized drugs were about to be loaded onto a large liner headed for Australia.
Mr Wichai said the NCB would widen the investigation to seize assets of all those involved in the smuggling operation.
Sacks and barrels containing 909kg of crystal methamphetamine seized from the fishing trawler off Koh Samet are displayed for a briefing on Thursday. (Photo: Narcotics Control Board)