Able Seaman Combat Specialist Daniel Peihopa of the Royal New Zealand Navy and Able Seaman Boatswains Mate Bridget Hopkins from the Royal Australian Navy in one of HMAS Warramunga’s sea boats.
27 January 2018
Two Royal New Zealand Navy sailors form part of a team which carried out recently one of the biggest ever drug hauls by a 32-nation naval coalition operating in the Middle East.
As boat coxswains on Royal Australian Navy (RAN) frigate HMAS Warramunga, Leading Seaman Combat Specialist Te Orangapumau Elia and Able Seaman Combat Specialist Daniel Peihopa drove the sea boats to transport the boarding party and the cache of narcotics seized.
“It’s the best feeling when all your hard work and effort to get the job done pays off,” LSCS Elia said.
“Taking part in one of the RAN’s biggest drug seizures is an amazing experience. Helping intercept one fishing vessel carrying drugs got me excited but catching three boats trafficking illegal narcotics in a row – that was great!”
Warramunga seized more than 11.5 tonnes of hashish and more than a tonne of heroin with an estimated street value of about NZ $980 million in four separate raids from late December to January.
The Australian frigate is working as part of the Combined Maritime Forces, a 32-nation naval partnership which promotes maritime security and seeks to defeat terrorism and prevent piracy and the trafficking of people and drugs across about 8.2 million square kilometres of international waters.
During the raids, the New Zealand sailors drove the Warramunga’s two Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats to transport the team which boarded the suspect vessels in the Indian Ocean.
“To be part of the operation was very exciting. It’s an awesome feeling seeing the tonnes of illegal narcotics transferred to Warramunga and then disposed of safely at sea,” ASCS Peihopa said.
The raid on 3 January, which was carried out with support from a Royal Navy helicopter, was a complex night operation that netted more than 3.5 tonnes of hashish.
“Preparations for the boarding started at midnight and the excitement of it all kept everyone awake,” ASCS Peihopa said.
The last raid, carried out on 24 January, intercepted a cache of 915 kg of heroin bound for Africa.
LSCS Elia and ASCS Peihopa were both posted to Warramunga in July 2017, for a 12-month exchange. They deployed on a maritime security operation in the Middle East in 2015, during which the Royal New Zealand Navy frigate Te Kaha seized heroin worth NZ $235 million.
“I was involved in Te Kaha’s drug bust in the Middle East two years ago so I know the feeling of success,” said LSCS Elia, who joined the Navy in 2009 after graduating from Te Aute College in Hawkes Bay.
He said the biggest challenge of being deployed was time away from his family, especially his partner and their six–year-old daughter.
“I phone them whenever we visit a port and email them regularly so I know what’s happening back home.”
However, even with all the modern means of communication on Warramunga, ASCS Peihopa said he struggles at times with pangs of homesickness.
“Few sailors get this opportunity so I’m making the most of it. I’d like to improve as a sailor so I am doing my best to learn new ways of conducting boat operations, replenishment at sea and other skills.”
ASCS Peihopa enlisted in the Navy in 2011 after graduating from high school in West Auckland. He was a Clearance Diver with the Littoral Warfare Unit for three years before he trained to become a Seaman Combat Specialist in 2014.