Russian cargo ship: 'Explosives additives' found did not have transit permit

The SA Council for the Non-Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (NPC) has confirmed that "explosives additives" found on a Russian vessel, currently arrested near Port Elizabeth, did not have a transit permit.

Trade and Industry spokesperson Sidwell Medupe said the NPC had been informed by police about a shipment of explosive additives found onboard the vessel, which is currently arrested outside Port of Ngqura near PE.

The council was formed under the auspices of the minister of trade and industry, in whose department the secretariat for the council operates.

READ: Russian cargo vessel allegedly carrying 'dangerous cargo' arrested in PE

One of NPC's functions is to provide for control over weapons of mass destruction and to control and manage matters relating to the proliferation of such weapons in the country.

Medupe said the explosive additives did not have a transit permit as required in the Non-Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction Act.

The legislation provides for control over such weapons.

"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," Medupe said in a statement.

'Dangerous cargo'

He said the NPC, the police and the National Prosecuting Authority were investigating the matter.

The South African Maritime Safety Authority had also been called in and had declared that all the "dangerous goods" on the vessel were stored correctly in terms of international law, according to The Herald.

The Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA) confirmed on Thursday that the ship had been arrested outside the Port of Ngqura.

"TNPA can confirm that the vessel Lada has been arrested by the [SA Police Service] and is anchored outside the Port of Ngqura. We are aware that the vessel has dangerous cargo on board," Port of Ngqura manager Tandi Lebakeng said in an emailed reply to News24's enquiry about the vessel.

Authorities discovered explosive goods aboard the vessel on Sunday while conducting operations at the port.

The TNPA revealed that the ship, named Lada, was en route from Tulear, Madagascar, and was destined for Lagos, Nigeria.

"TNPA gave permission for the vessel to be detained outside the port - although still within port limits - and we will continue monitoring the vessel," Lebakeng said.

Won't comment on 'fake news'

The Russian owners of the cargo vessel told News24 on Thursday that they would not comment on "fake news".

Transflot Ltd said in an email to News24 that all cargo delivered to the port was officially declared and all documents handed over. The company dismissed the claims that the ship was carrying dangerous weapons, described in the Herald as "weapons of mass destruction".

The company directed further questions to the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigations, better known as the Hawks, who are investigating the matter.

Earlier on Thursday, the company told maritime publication Tradewinds that the "absolutely legal cargo", covered by the International Maritime Organisation category 1.1 designation, was loaded in containers in Chennai, India.

Category 1.1 includes ammonium picrate and three types of cartridges for weapons, with bursting charges.

'Sensitive matter'

Hawks spokesperson Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi told News24 that it was a "sensitive" matter.

"We are not prepared to divulge details, pending a thorough assessment by different roleplayers that have been roped in to assist," said Mulaudzi.

He said he could not yet reveal who the "roleplayers" were.

"No charges have been laid against anyone and, as mentioned, we are not obliged to divulge [information] until the finalisation of this process," he added.

It has been reported that the vessel was inspected following a tip-off, after it had already offloaded 14 containers at the port.

The ship had produced all the relevant permits relating to the cargo it offloaded on South African shores. The containers were dispatched by a company named Solar India.

The Herald suggested that, while the initial drop-off was above board, the tip-off alerted authorities to a further 20 containers which remained stowed away. These containers, in direct contravention of numerous laws, held illegal weapons and explosives.

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