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Sh1.3bn drugs ship blown up at sea

Friday August 29 2014
DN COAST DRUGS 2908A.JPG

The MV Al Noor explodes after it was blown up by Kenya Navy on the President’s orders on August 29, 2014. PHOTO | LABAN WALLOGA |

By NATION TEAM

Kenya on Friday destroyed a ship laden with heroin valued at Sh1.3 billion.

The vessel was blown up in the high seas as a sign of the government’s tough stand against drug trafficking.

The MV Al Noor was impounded in June.

Mombasa has been cited in many security reports as a transit point for drugs headed to Asia and Europe.

Some of the drug lords have turned the Coast region into a drug haven, with thousands of young people addicted to heroin and cocaine.

President Uhuru Kenyatta supervised the blowing up of the ship and its contents aboard a military helicopter.

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The exercise was reminiscent of the burning of tonnes of ivory in the late 1980s by President Daniel arap Moi and in 2011 by President Mwai Kibaki.

This was done to show the world that Kenya did not want any benefits from trade in endangered animal species and helped to galvanise international support for the ban on the ivory trade.

The mv Al Noor was destroyed 33km from the Mombasa Port and sunk to a depth of 329 metres with 370.8kg of heroin. The initial cargo was 373.8kg, but three kilos were taken to the government chemist for further analysis.

The exercise was carried out by Kenya Navy Explosive Ordinance Disposal team.

The Kenya Air Force patrolled the airspace and Kenya Navy the seas to guarantee marine safety.

STASHED IN FUEL TANKS

Lawyer Cliff Ombetta, for the ship owners, protested the action, saying his clients’ property had been destroyed illegally.

The ship was impounded with bags of cement but upon investigation, a haul of drugs was found stashed in fuel tanks.

“It is after evidence has been presented in court that a determination can be made whether the ship owners had knowledge that drugs were being transported on it. It is the court, which should find whether the ship owners were guilty or not guilty, but this was not done,” Mr Ombetta.

The vessel, Al Noor, was sunk at Delta-16, a designated zone for disposal of explosives within Kenya’s territorial waters, at 4.08pm.

President Kenyatta was in one of the three military helicopters that circled the Kenya Navy warship KNS Jasiri coordinating the operation.

Aboard the ship were CID boss Ndegwa Muhoro and Deputy Inspector General of Police Grace Kaindi.

The unprecedented anti-narcotics operation started in the morning with the packing of the heroin back into the ship, which came into Mombasa from Pakistan, before it was strapped with explosives.

Opening the Mombasa ASK show on Thursday, President Kenyatta said the ship would be destroyed. This, he said, would signal that Kenya will not allow drug trafficking on its soil.

Mombasa County Commissioner Nelson Marwa said this was proof that the government will deal ruthlessly with drug barons and their agents.

“We have to tell the world about the negative effects of drugs. If this amount of heroin had been released into Mombasa, you can imagine the number of zombies it would have created,” Mr Marwa said.

DECLINED TO ISSUE ORDERS

Earlier in the day, the High Court declined to grant orders to destroy the vessel.

Director of Public Prosecution Keriako Tobiko had made an application for its destruction.

However, Mombasa judge Justice Maureen Odero declined to issue the orders saying that she did not want to interfere with the ruling of a lower court that was to decide on a similar application next month.

Mr Tobiko said no one had laid a claim to the vessel since a notice of seizure was issued one and a half months ago.

“If there is anyone who wants to lay claim to it, then that’s the person we should have in our custody,” he said.

He added it cost Sh88,000 daily to maintain the ship after it was declared unseaworthy.

Mr Tobiko asked the judge to vary the lower court’s order saying that the magistrate misdirected himself and that he was treating the matter before him as just ‘an ordinary case’, while in fact it was a case that fell beyond domestic concerns.

“This is a serious case dealing with transnational organised drug cartels and a matter of serious international concern,” he said.

The continued retention of the vessel, he noted, posed serious security risks even to the security personnel manning it.

State Counsel Alexander Muteti said the vessel was intercepted because it was not flying any flag as required under the maritime law and it had three names, which were meant to disguise its identity.

On Friday, Justice Odero upheld the ruling of the lower court to destroy the drugs but declined to grant the order for destroying the ship. “I will give more reasoned ruling next week,” she said.

The case will be mentioned on September 2, 2014.

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