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Blamuel Njururi, Nairobi – Australian Navy Thursday seized massive heroin haul estimated to be worth $320 (Ksh30 billion) off the Kenyan coast. The heroin, by far the biggest found in Africa, was promptly destroyed.
The Australian Department of Defence said in a statement: “Late on April 23, HMAS Darwin located a suspicious dhow and deployed her boarding team. Working throughout the night, the team discovered 46 sacks of heroin hidden amongst bags of cement.”
The record 1,032 kilogrammes in 46 sacks, had been hidden among bags of cement on the dhow, which was intercepted by the Royal Australian Navy frigate, HMAS Darwin, about 27 nautical miles east of Mombasa. It was seized after a three-day surveillance by the Australians, who had been patrolling the Indian Ocean. There was no mention of any arrests of suspects.
The Australian Navy had been monitoring the movement of a dhow that was carrying cement and the more than one tonne of the illicit cargo before they pounced. This is much bigger than the (Ksh 6.4 billion) heroin seized in Nairobi and Mombasa in 2004. It was then the biggest ever netted in Africa.
On March 25, 2011, Kenyan police also seized heroin worth $5.8 million after it was sneaked into the country through an illegal landing bay along the coast. Controversy looms as to whether it was ever destroyed with claims that it was sold by criminal cartels in collusion with Kenya government officials.
The latest seizure of the illicit merchandise appears to have caught the Kenyan authorities unawares, with the military denying reports that a shipment of drugs had been found off the Kenyan coast. In Nairobi, the Department of Defence spokesman, Mr Bogita Ongeri, said, that the haul was not seized within Kenya’s territorial waters.
“I can authoritatively say that the seizure of such heroin never happened within our Exclusive Economic Zone. We are doing daily surveillance within our territorial waters and we have not received such a report,” added Ongeri.
Kenya’s head of the anti-narcotics unit at the Directorate of Criminal Investigations, Hamisi Massa, confirmed the heroin haul seizure. “Our partners and territorial powers intercepted the ship and we shall be getting more details. But we are yet to know where it was heading to and its origin,” he said.
The Coalition Maritime Force director of operations, Captain Craig Powell, said: “This latest interception is the largest heroin haul in the history of force, with a street value of approximately $289 million (Australian dollars). The success of this interdiction is testament to the highly effective interoperability of HMAS Darwin with the UK-led Combined Task Force 150 under the Combined Maritime Forces, and the professionalism of Darwin’s crew.”
HMAS Darwin commanding officer Terry Morrison said the seizure was a big blow to terrorists’ funding networks. “This is a major heroin seizure, which has removed a major source of funding from terrorist criminal networks. The search tested the steel of Darwin’s boarding parties, who were working in difficult conditions throughout the night,” he said.
The Australian statement added: “HMAS Darwin located a suspicious dhow and deployed her boarding team. Working throughout the night, the boarding team discovered 46 sacks of heroin hidden amongst bags of cement.”
Australia has deployed its Navy in the Indian Ocean, as part of Operation Slipper. The Operation is the Australian Defence Force’s contribution to the international campaign against terrorism, counter smuggling and counter piracy in the Middle East maritime security environment, an area that covers 2 million square miles, encompassing the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, Arabian Gulf, Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Oman.
In February this year, the Australians seized and destroyed 353 kilogrammes of heroin off the Tanzanian coast. The haul was discovered by an Australian Navy crew sailing in HMAS Melbourne. Australian military also linked the earlier seizure to networks that fund terrorism.
“Melbourne has once again demonstrated how beneficial Australia’s commitment is to the Indian Ocean region and the fight against international terrorism and violent extremism,” according to the statement. Combined Maritime Forces is a multinational naval partnership, which was established to promote security, stability and prosperity across 2.5 million square miles of international waters.
The area is a major route used for trafficking narcotic drugs and Kenya is a key transit country for the drugs destined for Europe and America. Thursday’s seizure comes amid protests by some Kenya leaders over increased use of drugs, especially in Mombasa and Nairobi among youth.
Muslim lobby group accused rogue police officers of colluding with drug barons and hampering the war against drugs. Kenya Muslims National Advisory Council also accused police of not arresting drug peddlers despite getting tips of the activities and areas where they conduct their operations.
Chairman Sheikh Juma Ngao said countless bags of heroin and cocaine worth billions of shillings had been impounded yet they had never been openly destroyed as required by law, raising eyebrows as to their whereabouts.
“In the eight years I have been a National Campaign Against Drugs Abuse director, I have witnessed bhang being burned, but cocaine or heroin, never,” he said. Sheikh Ngao added youths in Nairobi and Coast had encountered difficulties fighting drug addiction as result of the businesses perpetrated by the drug barons who are well known by Kenyan authorities.