MUSCAT // Omani police said yesterday they are beefing up coastline security to fight drug smuggling due to a 35 per cent increase in drug offences in 2010 compared to the previous year.
Lt Col Yaqoub bin Salmeen al Habsi, acting head of the drug control department at the Directorate-General of Criminal Investigation, said in a statement that the police charged 1,417 people "with drugs offences" in 2010 up from 1,048 in 2009.
"The biggest users are citizens, while expatriates represented the largest number of smugglers and dealers. Offences include heroin, opium and even hashish," Lt Col Al Habsi said.
To combat drug trafficking, the police plan to equip coastguards with more speed boats and modern aircraft to patrol the sultanate's coastline, he added without elaborating.
Oman has a 1,700-kilometre-long coastline that stretches from Yemen to the UAE. Smugglers from Pakistan, India and Iran use the sea to smuggle in drugs under cover of the night, a border official said.
"It is extremely difficult to police a coastline that long on a regular basis. We foil a lot of attempts but I would say a quarter of the smugglers escape the net. What's the solution? We need the co-operation from our neighbours to defeat the trade. We cannot do it alone," said a border official at the northern region of Musandam, who declined to be identified by name.
Mr al Habsi said that Oman has recently signed separate memorandums of understanding with the UAE, Pakistan and Turkey to "co-operate on drug matters" that he hoped would cut down smuggling.
"These drug smugglers hide [contraband] in the boat under legitimate imports such as clothing, shoes and food. Not all the drugs and hashish are consumed locally. Actually most of them go to the UAE by road where there is a bigger market," a fisherman in Khasab, a coastal town near the UAE border said. Khasab is the largest town in Musandam, a peninsula in the Strait of Hormuz. The narrow sea lane off the coast of Oman is a key exporting route through wichi 40 per cent of the world's crude oil travels from the Gulf states.