Ship arrested in Port Elizabeth for illegally carrying ‘weapons of mass destruction’
A Russian cargo vessel alleged to be illegally carrying explosives considered to be possible weapons of mass destruction has been arrested and ordered to anchor in Algoa Bay, 15km off the Nelson Mandela Bay coastline.
Authorities have confirmed that the ship has dangerous cargo on board, but the exact nature of the explosives and weapons valued at tens of millions of rands is shrouded in mystery.
The Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation – known as the Hawks – has taken over the docket, but declined to comment.
The bust follows an operation on Sunday at the Port of Ngqura when the Russian vessel, the Lada, docked to offload 14 containers – with the correct permits – which had been dispatched to SA.
However, 20 other containers found on board are allegedly illegal.While police were tightlipped on the details of the discovery, a criminal investigation was opened for allegedly flouting regulations under the Non-Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction Act as well as the Explosives Act.
According to officials, the find came after a tip-off which prompted the Port Elizabeth Explosives Unit to investigate the vessel’s cargo.
“The ship docked and it was established that 14 of the containers had permits for offloading in South Africa,” an official, who declined to be named, said.
“After suspicions were raised, police checked the other containers and found a further 20 containers carrying explosives and components.”
The official said that the vessel did not have permits for the other 20 containers, some of which were destined for Lagos in Nigeria and others for the United States.
The 14 containers destined for SA were dispatched by a company called Solar India.The total value of the weapons is estimated by police to be just under R50m.
“The vessel was placed under arrest by the police and sent to anchor about 15km offshore with all the cargo on board,” the official said.
“The vessel is effectively sitting in Algoa Bay loaded with explosives.”
The docket was opened at the Swartkops police station, in whose policing area the Port of Ngqura falls, and taken over by the Hawks.
Port of Ngqura manager Tandi Lebakeng confirmed that the Lada had been arrested.
“We are aware that she has dangerous cargo on board,” Lebakeng said.
“She is detained by police within port limits, although she is anchored outside the port.”Asked where the Lada’s last port of call was, Lebakeng said the vessel had come from the city of Tulear in Madagascar and was heading to Lagos.
Lebakeng said that permission was given for the vessel to anchor outside the port and that officials were monitoring its movements.
She referred further queries to the police.
Acting Eastern Cape Hawks head Brigadier Gops Govender failed to answer a series of questions relating to the arrest.
“The DPCI [Hawks] has no comment to make or any media release,” he said.
SA Navy spokesperson Commander Greyling van den Berg said that the matter remained a police and customs issue unless assistance was needed from the SA National Defence Force.
“We are on standby as usual and should assistance be needed, we will be alerted.
“The only scenario we will get involved in is if the vessel tries to flee,” he said.
Under the Weapons of Mass Destruction Act, the ship can be detained for flouting various permits needed in the transit of such goods.
According to the act, the South African Council for Non-Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction has oversight over such goods in transit.
Several attempts to contact the council – which falls under the department of trade and industry – were unsuccessful.
Trade and industry spokesperson Sidwell Medupe failed to reply to questions by the time of going to print and attempts to get hold of the department’s portfolio committee were also unsuccessful.
Municipal safety and security head Keith Meyer said that neither he nor disaster management had been informed.
He declined to comment further on the matter.
The docket is registered with the SAPS under the permits section of the Weapons of Mass Destruction Act.