PERLEMOEN poaching syndicates operating along the coastline were dealt a massive blow yesterday when police seized about R20-million worth of perlemoen in a raid on a farm outside Alexandria.
Two Chinese nationals, aged 30 and 35, and the farm owner, 66, were arrested.
The Chinese men were in the country on study visas, according to papers in their possession. Neither could speak a word of English.
The bust followed a tip-off about an illegal fish processing facility on the Cannon Rocks road, about 10km outside Alexandria.
The factory was in a farm shed at the entrance to the farm, 50m away from the main house. The shed had three drying rooms, a room for packing the perlemoen, a wash bay to clean them and several freezers for storage.
Police spokesman Lieutenant Luvuyo Mjekula said several electric heating fans, freezers, gas cylinders with burners and chemicals used to clean the perlemoen had been confiscated.
Fisheries experts called to the farm said the perlemoen were from both the Western and Eastern Cape.
Police said it was the biggest bust in the Eastern Cape this year. “The street value of this is at least R20-million. It is difficult to give the exact value until we count and weigh it,” one policeman said.
Port Elizabeth cluster head detective Colonel Hein Fourie said the tip-off came shortly after 2pm, while he was driving back from a meeting in East London.
“I called a team from the Port Elizabeth vehicle investigation section who were in the area, as well as the K9 unit and Alexandria detective Captain Leon Els.
“I met them in Alexandria and we went to the farmhouse,” he said. “We found 33 massive bags of perlemoen and a pile of them on the floor.”
Police were setting up floodlights at about 7pm yesterday to start counting them.
According to one of the policemen at the farm, the tip-off revealed that the contraband was destined for the Middle East.
“Some of the perlemoen was packed and ready to go, with a mound of them on the ground waiting to be packed.
“We suspect this was a drop- off point where they were preparing the perlemoen to smuggle it out of the country.”
The bust comes only months after Interpol launched Operation Scale – a global effort to combat the trafficking of fish and illegal substances.
Last month, officials involved with the operation seized perlemoen worth R2-million that had been smuggled out of Cape Town by poachers on a rented cargo vessel.
The vessel was ordered to return to South Africa from Singapore.
Police are investigating how long the factory has been operating and who else is involved.
It is believed Port Elizabeth poachers could be among those supplying the factory with perlemoen.
The Asset Forfeiture Unit is also investigating possible money laundering.
The case has been handed over to the Organised Crime Unit.
The three men are facing charges of possession of perlemoen and operating an illegal processing plant.
They are due to appear in the Alexandria Magistrate’s Court on Monday.