Authorities in Tanzania and the United Kingdom have seized the biggest ever consignment of cocaine estimated at a street value of £512 million (about1.5bn/-).
Following the seizure on Monday this week, a Scottish High Court convicted the captain and first officer of an ocean-going tug boat of drug trafficking. Following a 12-week trial at the High Court in Glasgow, Ship Captain Mumin Sahin and First Mate Emin Ozmen were found guilty of two counts of drug trafficking.
They will be sentenced on August 12. The cocaine, with an estimated potential street value of 1.5bn/- and a weight of 3.2 tonnes, was found hidden on board the Tanzanian-flagged MV Hamal in April 2015 off the coast of Scotland. UK authorities were only able to stop the vessel in international waters due to the cooperation of Tanzania.
The MV Hamal is owned by the Kiev Shipping and Trading Corporation and had an all Turkish crew. Before being apprehended in Scotland, ship logs showed the MV Hamal had sailed from Turkey to West Africa, Tenerife and Guyana.
Contacted yesterday, Police Spokesperson Advera Bulimba said she was outside her office and thus could not be able to make follow-up on the matter. “I am not in the office now; and I can only comment if I have enough information,’’ she said in a telephone interview.
Efforts to contact the Head of Interpol, Mr Gustavus Babile, and the Director of Criminal Investigation (DCI), Diwani Athumani, yesterday proved futile. Under international maritime law, Tanzania had to give permission to allow the UK authorities to board the vessel in international waters.
This was because the vessel was registered under the Tanzanian flag. British High Commissioner Dianna Melrose said yesterday that the case indicated the truly global reach of drug trafficking and other serious organised crime.
She remarked that it was only by working together that the vice could be stopped. According to her, the operation to stop the boat in question led to the largest ever seizure of cocaine in the UK. “I would like to thank the Tanzanian authorities for their vital support. The Attorney General and Director of Public Prosecutions acted decisively to grant the permission for UK law enforcement to stop and board this vessel.
The swiftness of their response enabled them to act before the vessel could escape,” the envoy observed. The permission was given by the Attorney General and Director of Public Prosecutions within twenty four hours of the request being made by the UK Criminal Justice Advisor based at the British High Commission in Tanzania. The quick response enabled UK law enforcement to act swiftly to intercept the vessel before it could evade capture.
The vessel was intercepted by a Royal Navy destroyer and UK Border Force cutter in the North Sea approximately 100 miles off the coast of Aberdeenshire. It was boarded on April 23 and escorted into the Port of Aberdeen.
On arrival, a three-day search of the boat was conducted by specialist UK Border Force teams, alongside National Crime Agency (NCA) and Scottish Police Authority forensic teams. About 128 bales of cocaine were found in the ballast tanks on the Hamal, each weighing approximately 25 kilos.
The total weight of the cocaine taken off the vessel was in excess of 3.2 tonnes. Forensic tests revealed the cocaine had a purity of between 58 and 74 per cent. It would likely have been cut three times over before being sold, meaning it had the potential to create almost ten tonnes of adulterated street level purity cocaine, valued at around £512 million.
The UK has already spent £1.08 million through its Conflict Security and Stability Fund in Tanzania, helping different agencies work together and creating a team of specialist prosecutors and law enforcement to tackle drug trafficking, corruption and other serious organised crime.
They work closely with police, prosecutors and the courts.
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