The latest battle between Middle Eastern drug traffickers and US warships nearly turned deadly after smugglers set their boat ablaze in the Gulf of Oman, according to US Central Command.
Sailors from the patrol coastal ship Sirocco rescued the eight mariners on Saturday, Oct. 29. CENTCOM officials said the civilians had abandoned their burning boat prior to it being boarded as a suspected drug-smuggling vessel.
While Sirocco’s crew provided medical care to the mariners, sister patrol coastal ships Chinook and Thunderbolt fought the fire.
“This was a superb effort by all of our crews,” US 5th Fleet Vice Adm. Brad Cooper said in a prepared statement released Sunday. “I couldn’t be prouder of everyone involved in saving lives while carrying out our mission to disrupt destabilizing maritime activity.”
The Iranian and Pakistani mariners confessed to trafficking a shipment of hashish and methamphetamine, according to CENTCOM. US sailors recovered 560 kilograms of hash with an estimated street value of $1 million. Officials believe the recovered narcotics composed only about a third of the cargo.
The rest of the narcotics burned or went down with the sinking boat.
CENTCOM reported that, after the sailors treated the mariners for their injuries, they transferred them to “a regional nation for additional treatment and repatriation.”
Reached in Bahrain, US 5th Fleet spokesperson Cmdr. Tim Hawkins declined to say which nation stepped up to take the suspected smugglers, telling Coffee or Die Magazine that it’s “up to the regional partner to disclose their support for this rescue. We will not speak for them.”
No major media in the three nations bordering the Gulf of Oman — Iran, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates — carried a story about the incident.
On Monday, however, Iranian officials announced the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps operating in the Persian Gulf had seized a vessel smuggling roughly 24,250 pounds of an undisclosed fuel worth $51.8 million.
“The criminal acts by fuel smugglers who plunder national assets in coordination with foreigners will not be hidden from the sight of Judiciary officials and officers, and the perpetrators of such crimes will be punished severely and without leniency,” Mojtaba Ghahremani, the director of Iran’s Justice Department in Hormozgan province, told Tehran’s official Press TV news agency.
Saturday’s US Navy rescue of eight people from a burning boat came only three days after the guided-missile destroyer Nitze and the patrol coast ship Monsoon saved three mariners after their motorboat caught fire in the Gulf of Aden, about 50 nautical miles off Yemen.