'Explosives additives' found on-board Bay ‘bomb ship’

The Russian vessel the Lada alleged to be illegally carrying explosives considered to be possible weapons of mass destruction.
The Russian vessel the Lada alleged to be illegally carrying explosives considered to be possible weapons of mass destruction.
Image: Eugene Coetzee

The South African Council for the Non-Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction has confirmed it is assisting the police with the Russian cargo ship transporting explosives.

The ship is currently arrested and remains anchored in Algoa Bay while the police have roped in other agencies to assist with the investigation.

This comes after a criminal case of alleged contravention of the Non-Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction Act and the Explosives Act had been registered at the Swartkops police station on Tuesday.

The country’s ocean safety watchdog, the South African Maritime Safety Authority, has since been called in and has declared that all the “dangerous goods” on the vessel are stored correctly in terms of international law.

However, the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation – the Hawks – which detained the ship, the Lada, on Sunday, and are handling the docket, remain tight-lipped on the criminal investigation.


The bust came after the police’s Explosives Unit raided the cargo vessel when it docked at the Port of Ngqura on Sunday.

Officials confirmed that 34 containers carrying explosives and components were found on board, of which 14 were destined for SA and due to be offloaded at the port.

The 14 containers destine for South Africa had permits.

The remaining 20 containers were destined for Lagos in Nigeria and for the US.

The South African Council for the Non Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (NPC) has oversight over explosives and components in transit.

A map showing the Lada's whereabouts in the Bay
A map showing the Lada's whereabouts in the Bay
Image: Supplied by MarineTraffic.com

Its mandate is to oversee biological, chemical and nuclear weapons and their delivery systems – such as missiles – within the borders of the country.

The non-proliferation act states that a permit would be needed to transport any of these items – which is what the Hawks are believed to be looking into.

The council answers directly to trade and industry minister Rob Davies, whose office failed to respond to questions.

Ministry spokesman Sidwell Medupe said on Friday morning confirmed that the MPC has been informed about a shipment of explosives additives found on-board a vessel.

Medupe said there was no transit permit as required by the Act.

“The NPC can confirm that the vessel contained controlled items that were in transit and were not going to be offloaded in South Africa.  The explosives additives would have required a transit permit when a vessel carrying them enters South African territorial waters. The explosives additives in question have both civilian (industrial) and military applications and are therefore controlled items,” he said.

Medupe said the NPC, the Police and the National Prosecuting Authority were dealing with the matter.

Medupe would not detail the specific explosives on board the vessel.

The maritime safety authority’s deputy chief operations officer, Captain Nigel Campbell, said it was not involved in the arrest but was overseeing maritime safety issues.

“The vessel has the correct document of compliance to carry dangerous goods in terms of the International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code and the Merchant Shipping (Dangerous Goods) Regulations.

“It appears that there are no contraventions relating to maritime issues,” he said.

Officials said questions were raised over the permits around the other 20 containers which were not destined for SA.

On Wednesday, the Transnet National Port Authority confirmed that the Lada had been arrested and was being monitored while it remains anchored about 15km from the Port of Ngqura.

Hawks spokesperson Hangwani Mulaudzi said on Thursday: “This is a very sensitive matter and in that case we are not prepared to give or divulge details pending a thorough assessment by the different roleplayers that have been roped in to assist.”

Mulaudzi said no person had been arrested or charged but failed to elaborate on why the ship was being detained.

The Lada has not moved from its position since Monday.

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