Huge cocaine bust in KZN

2009-01-29 00:00

A 230-kg shipment of cocaine was intercepted on a cargo ship in the Durban harbour yesterday.

It is the largest ever cocaine bust in South Africa during which a suspect has been arrested, said Johan Booysen, head of the SAPS’s organised crime unit in KwaZulu-Natal.

This comes after a shipment of dagga and cocaine was intercepted at London’s Heathrow Airport on board a South African Airways Boeing. A crew member of the aircraft and a security guard were arrested in connection with those drugs.

The cocaine discovered yesterday has a street value of about R230 million. It is presumed to have been brought on to the freighter, named the Senator, on an earlier leg of the ship’s voyage.

A crew member of the Senator, a 28-year-old Croat, was arrested after the packaged cocaine was found in his cabin, hidden in suitcases, drawers and rucksacks, among other things. “He presumably took the cocaine on board in rucksacks. There were so many rucksacks in his cabin that it looked as if he was on his way to climbing Kilimanjaro,” said Booysen.

Members of the police’s organised crime unit started searching the Senator early yesterday morning, assisted by customs officials.

The whole boat was thoroughly searched from top to bottom. Police divers even checked the hull under the water. Booysen said the raid was driven by intelligence that had been gathered.

The Senator is registered in Liberia and was en route from Croatia, with Argentina its last port of call.

According to Booysen, the captain and crew co-operated with the police and none, except for the 28-year-old, are suspected at this stage of having been involved with the smuggling operation.

However, further arrests have not been excluded, said Booysen. Police are also trying to establish whether SA was the intended final destination.

The operational officer commanding the organised crime units in KZN, Superintendent Andre Laatz, said South Africa has become a big consumer of cocaine in the past seven years. It was previously used largely as a transit point for drugs being smuggled from South America to Europe.

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