Arrested ship packed with ‘high explosives’
The Lada on its way to Nigeria after being released
The Russian cargo ship that was detained in Algoa Bay for three weeks was transporting several containers of bombs and accessories, including more than 87 tons of highly volatile military grade explosive compounds.
The Lada, which was anchored 10km offshore in the bay, was released on Saturday afternoon after obtaining the necessary permits and was past Cape Town yesterday, en route to Lagos in Nigeria, where it is expected to dock next week.
The investigation will, however, continue.
The Lada was arrested on August 19 at the Port of Ngqura after 34 containers – 20 of which were illegally in SA waters – were found on board the ship during a police inspection.
The containers, worth about R50m, had been sent from global explosives manufacturer Solar Industries India, part of the Indian-based global Solar Group.
Fourteen containers were destined for explosives company Solar Mining Services in Middelburg and were offloaded, while the remaining 20 did not have permits under the Non-Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Act and were, according to police, illegal.
The SA Council for Non-Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (NPC) has since confirmed that it is assisting with the probe.
Hawks spokesperson Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi said the Lada had been released after all the required documentation and procedures had been finalised. However, the investigation into the shipping agents would continue.
The 20 containers still on board hold a mixture of explosive products, including more than 200,000 detonators, more than a million metres of detonating cord and fuses, as well as several tons of highly volatile military grade explosives.
A well-placed source within the multifaceted investigation said the US shipment included 51 tons of HMX, six tons of RDX and 30 tons of PETN.
In SA, all three deadly compounds are listed under the Explosives Act as “high explosives”.
The other part of the consignment is destined for Lagos, where the Solar Group has a facility.
The Solar Group boasts of being a global leader in the explosives business with a footprint in 42 countries, including several in Africa.
It also supplies the defence industry with explosives, bombs and warheads, rockets and propellant.
Verification Research, Training and Information Centre researcher Noel Stott said SA took breaches of policy linked to the NPC extremely seriously.
“The containers would likely need a dual-use permit from the NPC to be transported.
“This is a complex issue to such an extent that even some chemicals in shampoos need these permits to be imported or exported.
“If this slipped through SA undetected, in theory it should have been picked up by the Americans.”
Part of the shipment is destined for the United States.
Stott said the NPC and police were questioning why the US had ordered these items.
“From what I can determine, the permits have now been applied for.
“The approval will be based on our officials consulting with America to establish if they were aware of this and if they have given the necessary approvals to the end-user.”
Institute for Security Studies counterterrorism training coordinator Willem Els, a former police bomb technician and inspector, said these explosives were used in both commercial and military sectors.
“I suspect the police investigation is into who the endusers are and what they need these quantities for.
“This would play a crucial role to establish why they did not have the correct permits and so on,” Els said.
“Because of what these explosives can be used for, it is critical the police check the legitimacy of exactly where this cargo is going and why.”
If the explosives were stored correctly, there was little risk.
But based on the explosives and volume aboard the Lada, Els said, should they explode, the blast radius could be more than 10km based on several factors including what else was on board.
He said the Solar Group was known for supplying both the mining and military sectors.
“I know many attacks [bombings] that occur in Somalia have been linked back to imported Indian manufactured explosives, but it is difficult to say which company.”
The Solar Group came under international scrutiny two years ago after a Conflict Armament Research report found Solar Industries India and Economic Explosives – both linked to the Solar Group – had supplied IS with detonators and detonator cords.
The report said the investigation in Syria and Iraq showed the companies’ detonating cord and detonators had been found in some bombings.
SA-based Solar Mining Services lists directors as South African Desmond Pillay as well as Solar Group executive director Suresh Menon and Solar Group India’s managing and executive director, Manish Nuwal.
But Solar Mining Services attorney Shaeed Dollie was adamant it was not a subsidiary or agent for the group.
Dollie – who was also the lawyer for former Denel chief executive Riaz Saloojee who was ousted from the company in 2015 – said Solar Industries India had an “indirect interest” in Solar Mining.
Asked why executives of the group were listed as directors at Solar Mining, Dollie failed to respond.
Dollie said the company’s containers were released by the police after being held for more than a week.