By George Obulutsa
NAIROBI, April 25 (Reuters) - An Australian warship patrolling the Indian Ocean has seized more than a tonne of heroin worth A$289 million ($268 million) from a dhow in Kenyan waters, Australia's Defence Department said on Friday.
The frigate, HMAS Darwin, intercepted the vessel on Wednesday night 27 nautical miles east off Kenya's port city of Mombasa and confiscated 1,023 kg (2,255 pounds) of heroin in 46 sacks hidden in bags of cement, the department's website said.
The drugs were destroyed, the online statement said.
"This is a major heroin seizure, which has removed a major source of funding from terrorist criminal networks," Commander Terry Morrison, HMAS Darwin's Commanding Officer said.
HMAS Darwin is in the region as part of a group naval force - the Coalition Maritime Forces (CMF) - to counter piracy, militancy, smuggling and other illegal activities in an area covering the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, Arabian Gulf, Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Oman.
The haul is the force's largest ever, the CMF said.
There has been a surge in the volumes of heroin trafficked through eastern Africa in the past few years, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
Heroin is typically routed through the region - known for its porous borders and weak maritime surveillance - from Pakistan and Iran on its way to Europe.
The size and frequency of drug hauls at east Africa's ports, airports and offshore are on the rise. More illegal narcotics were seized in the region in the first five months of 2013 than in the previous two years, the UNODC said.
This month, a Canadian battleship patrolling the Indian Ocean seized 130 kg of heroin from a dhow 100 nautical miles east of Tanzania's semi-autonomous archipelago of Zanzibar, and last year a Canadian warship confiscated 500 kg of heroin from a dhow more than 300 nautical miles off Zanzibar.
The southwestern Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden are also used by bands of pirates from Somalia, as well as human traffickers.
CMF cooperates with the European Union's maritime force EUNavfor in the region as well as NATO naval forces. (Reporting by George Obulutsa; Editing by Richard Lough and Louise Ireland)