Govt probes cocaine haul seized from Tanzania-flagged ship

06Jan 2018
The Guardian Reporter
The Guardian
Govt probes cocaine haul seized from Tanzania-flagged ship

THE government said yesterday that it is investigating reports that a Tanzania-flagged ship carrying 1,600 kilos of cocaine aboard has been seized by Dutch naval forces.

Minister for Foreign Affairs and East African Cooperation, Dr Augustine Mahiga,

According to international media reports, the vessel was seized on December 26 but the haul of cocaine was found on December 31 upon thorough inspection, the World Maritime News website reported.

When contacted by The Guardian yesterday, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs and East African Cooperation Susan Kolimba said the government was investigating the veracity of the reports.

“We are investigating to establish whether the reports are true or not. That is what I can tell you for now,” she said without going into details.

The suspected merchant vessel was first spotted by a helicopter deployed with a Dutch naval vessel on December 25, the reports say.

“It was boarded by the US Coast Guard the next day. The officers conducted a search aboard the unnamed merchant vessel but did not find the illegal cargo,” the reports add.

The ship was then escorted to Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic, where another search was undertaken by the Law Enforcement Detachments (LEDETs), which are maritime law enforcement teams of the United States Coast Guard.

“Following a thorough inspection, the officials located 1,600 kilos of cocaine hidden in a space between the fuel tanks aboard the ship on December 31,” according to the reports.

The vessel, together with the illegal cargo and its seafarers, was transferred to authorities in the Dominican Republic for further investigation.

Countries targeted by United Nations sanctions, such as North Korea and Iran, have in the past been accused of flying the Tanzanian flag putting the country on the spot. 

The Tanzania Zanzibar International Register of Shipping (TZIRS), which was previously accused of allowing Iranian ships to fly the Tanzania flag, was not immediately available for comment.

Last year, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and East African Cooperation, Dr Augustine Mahiga, denied that Tanzania was assisting North Korea to violate UN sanctions by using Tanzania-flagged ships.

In January 2017 TZIRS was forced to deregister 45 vessels for breach of UN sanctions against North Korea. 

This happened after TZIRS terminated its contract with the Dubai-based Philtex Corporation (Belize) Ltd in October 2014 for breach of contract.

Philtex had been contracted by TZIRS to register foreign ships on its behalf but the ships were later found to be breaching UN sanctions against Iran.