The fishing boat flew a Singaporean flag as it sailed toward Batam Island in Indonesia. But when Indonesian Navy officers intercepted the vessel and boarded it in February 2018, they discovered that the boat, and its four-person crew, were actually from Taiwan. Flying a false flag wasn’t the only offense — customs officials also found 41 rice sacks packed with a ton of methamphetamine, or crystal meth, hidden beneath food supplies in the vessel’s hold.
The use of fishing vessels to transport drugs is a fairly common occurrence, according to a new study published in Fish and Fisheries. In fact, the study found that drug trafficking on fishing vessels has actually tripled over the last eight years, accounting for about 15% of the global retail value of illicit drugs.
Dyhia Belhabib, the paper’s lead author as well as the principal fisheries investigator at Ecotrust Canada and founder of Spyglass, an online tool that maps out vessels involved in maritime crimes, said there’s actually a distinct lack of data on drug trafficking in the fisheries sector. This study aimed to bridge that gap.