Police in July 2020 busted a drug-smuggling scheme involving transporting methamphetamine hidden inside granite blocks in containers exported from Việt Nam. — Photo courtesy of the Ministry of Public Security
Major General Trần Văn Nam, Deputy Commander of Việt Nam's coastguard talks with Vietnam News Agency about fighting drug crimes at sea.
Drug crimes on Vietnamese waters are very complicated at present and it is very difficult to control as well as detect and arrest illegal drug shipments. What can you tell us about the current situation?
The situation of drug crimes around the world is very complicated, not only in Vietnamese waters. Criminals from many countries collude with each other, making things very hard for the authorities, especially the international criminal police (Interpol).
In Việt Nam, drug criminals mostly collude with foreign criminal organisations. They bring drugs into Việt Nam in many different forms and many routes by land, air and sea.
On the sea route, under the direction of the Ministry of National Defence, the coastguard has enhanced patrolling, controlling and enforcing sea laws as well as fighting against crime and law violations and defending the country's sovereignty over seas and islands.
For many years, the coastguard has discovered and arrested criminals and international criminal organisations at sea including pirates, drug smugglers, people smugglers, and those committing commercial frauds. Many large cases of illegal drug trafficking and transportation have been dismantled.
In the East Sea area, the situation of drug crimes is very complicated. That is reflected in the cases that the coastguard had co-ordinated with the police, customs and border guards to disrupt like the case of over eight tonnes of cannabis resin produced in South America and transported through to many countries resulting in arrests in Việt Nam.
Then in 2019 and 2020, Vietnamese fishermen found hundreds of kilos of synthetic drugs at sea and handed them over to the coastguard.
In the East Sea area and in Southeast Asia, the shipping routes have become a passage that criminals are choosing to transport and trade in illegal drugs.
How do you explain the drugs found floating in the water?
It might be due to weather or objective reasons such as shipwrecks or suspicions and detections by officials, so they disposed of the drugs by throwing them into the sea.
Also, we are seeing sophisticated methods to evade detection as drug traffickers are sometimes attaching GPS devices to packages and dropping them into the sea for others to collect by tracking the GPS signal.
Việt Nam has many open policies according to international practices in import and export, entry and exit, customs clearance of goods. But we have seen criminals taking advantage of these policies to illegally trade and transport drugs. What can you tell us about this?
Currently, with the rapid global economic development, most countries are creating favourable conditions for the opening of the economies, especially logistics services. This service is carried out non-stop along with simplifying customs procedures.
The fact is that authorities cannot check all goods. Therefore, drug traffickers take advantage of those policies and regulations to mix and pack drugs into untested goods that have low inspection probability to export narcotics to other countries.
In addition to taking advantage of the open policy in import and export to transport drugs through official channels, criminals also transport drugs by informal channels. They mix and hide drugs in hand luggage to avoid being checked and screened.
What are the major difficulties the coastguard face catching drug smugglers?
There are many difficulties that we are facing. The first is the weather conditions. The weather can be very harsh, not always peaceful, storms are unpredictable.
Normally, at the end of the year, the entire northern sea area has monsoons with big waves and thick fog making visibility very limited and impossible to observe over a long distance. Therefore, observing and discovering traffickers is very difficult.
Last year, we organised a lot of boats to follow suspected traffickers at sea. We had to move continuously to avoid being exposed.
The subjects use many tricks to distract the authorities. They put the ships out and back in, sometimes drifting, sometimes anchoring for repair. If they are not caught red-handed with the drugs, we cannot prosecute them.
Another problem is that drug criminals often possess weapons hidden on board and they are ready to shoot and fight fiercely.
In one case, we even seized machine guns on board. If we do not have appropriate fighting methods, we cannot ensure the safety of officers and soldiers and casualties will be very high.
In addition, we must co-ordinate well with international police and customs forces to share and update information.
Could you tell about the role of fishermen in fighting drug crimes?
The coastguard identifies and considers people and fishermen working at sea as a very important network in the fight against drug crime.
In fact, for years, we have received a lot of information from fishermen about the situation of law violations, including foreign ships violating Vietnamese waters. From the information, we have checked and handled many cases very strictly, which is very encouraging.
We always stand side by side with fishermen to perform well our function of ensuring security, order and safety at sea. VNS