Drug ‘incursion’ fizzles

An aerial view of Aur Island, one of two main islands in Aur Atoll, with the runway visible in the foreground.

GIFF JOHNSON

Cocaine packages on the beach. An incursion by a foreign yacht related to possible drug activity. A bloody trail leading into the island.

This information — or something close to this — rolled into Majuro law enforcement authorities from Tobal, Aur on August 12. MIPD quickly put together its Sea Patrol crew, pulled in medical staff from Majuro hospital, and late night Wednesday August 12 Lomor was speeding toward Aur Atoll, 90 miles north of Majuro — with all those on board unsure what they would find when they arrived at Tobal. An additional concern was the possibility that any people on a vessel could have Covid-19, representing a transmission threat to the country.

As an exercise, it proved Lomor and law enforcement officials can get out the door quickly in response to an emergency request from the outer islands. But what the team found on Tobal and nearby islands Thursday on arrival was anticlimactic after the breathless report of a possible drug-related “incursion” at Aur.

According to officials the Journal spoke with they found no drugs, no yacht and no blood trail — save, possibly, for the leftover munching on the beach by the numerous, and large, monitor lizards (known locally as “kotiltil”).

What they did find was:
• Instead of a “yacht,” a 33-foot fiberglass boat that appeared to have been floating around the Pacific Ocean for years. “It had barnacles on every surface and it was old,” was the description. “No way that anything related to this boat had Covid because the boat had obviously been drifting for a long time,” said one person on the trip who saw it.

• On Biken Island, about eight miles distant from Tobal, the vertebrae and bones of a whale that beached many months ago. All the flesh was gone, leaving bleached white vertebrae stacked up on the ocean side of the island. “From a long distance, the square-shaped vertebrae looked like packages of drugs,” said one person on the trip. The Journal also viewed photographs taken by a local fisherman during a pass-by of Aur earlier this month and, indeed, looking from outside the reef several hundred yards from the shore, the bones on the beach did resemble “white packages.” But up close, they were just that: large bones from the spine of the whale.

• No blood trail, but many monitor lizards, some as long as three feet and up to an estimated 10-12 pounds in size. “They go into the water to get food. We were told about blood but we didn’t see any.” The “blood trail” turned out, possibly, to be related to monitor lizards.

The team returned to Majuro having engaged in what turned out, unexpectedly, to be a live training “exercise” for quick response by law enforcement officials. They passed the test.

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