Heroin haul worth $5.5m seized in Tanzania

Wednesday February 5 2014

Part of the 201 kilogrammes of heroin is inspected at Dar es Salaam port February 4, 2014 after being seized on a vessel sailing between Tanzania Mainland and Zanzibar. Photo/MICHAEL JAMSON

Part of the 201 kilogrammes of heroin is inspected at Dar es Salaam port February 4, 2014 after being seized on a vessel sailing between Tanzania Mainland and Zanzibar. Photo/MICHAEL JAMSON 

By Katare Mbashiru, The Citizen Reporter

Tanzanian authorities Tuesday impounded 201 kilogrammes of heroin worth $5.5 million, proving once more that the war on drugs remains a daunting task. The heroin was found aboard an Iranian vessel.

The arrest came just a few weeks after the Canadian military ship Toronto impounded 265 bags of heroin weighing more than 280kgs aboard a vessel while patrolling the Indian Ocean.  

In the meantime, a special task force dealing with transnational organised crime in Tanzanian waters has arrested 12 suspects.

Eight of the suspects held Iranian passports and four others were found with Pakistan travel documents. The suspects are being interrogated by police, according to the head of the Anti-Drugs Unit (ADU), Mr Godfrey Nzowa.

He told The Citizen that the drug dealers were arrested in the wee hours of Tuesday on board Aldahial, an Iranian dhow. It was sailing between Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar at the time.

According to police, preliminary investigations indicate that the ship ferrying the drugs was registered in Kunak, Iran.

“A special task force suspected them and subjected them to a thorough search,” Mr Nzowa said. “It was at that time that we impounded a consignment of heroin.”

The task force comprised marine police, navy officers and Tanzania Intelligence Service officers. According to Mr Nzowa, the arrest came as a result of intelligence information in a joint patrol to curb transnational organised crime in Tanzanian waters.

The operation was carried in collaboration with other law enforcers from the Southern African Development Community member states and other countries.

“As of now, we are yet to know where their targeted destination is,” he added. “We are still questioning the suspects so we can identify where the consignment was to be ferried.”

The heroin impounded on Tuesday is one of the biggest seizures to be recorded in Tanzania’s history.

The catch indicates how drug lords exploit all possible avenues to ferry their merchandise to escape arrest.

The last time law enforcers intercepted a huge consignment of narcotics was in 2012, when 211 kilogrammes were seized at Mchinga area in Lindi region.

The task force dealing with transnational organised crime, including drug trafficking, has in recent months recorded the biggest ever number of traffickers arrested at Julius Nyerere International Airport (JNIA) and Kilimanjaro International Airport (KIA).

Having realised that police from ADU have made it difficult to use Tanzanian airports as a drug conduit, criminals have now chosen to use marine vessels in ferrying their illicit merchandise and escape law enforcers.

Foreign news agencies reported that on January 18, the Canadian Military Ship Toronto discovered 265 bags of heroin weighing more than 280kg aboard a vessel while patrolling the Indian Ocean as part of Operation ARTEMIS, a maritime security and counter-terrorism effort in the Middle East. The consignment, which was intercepted off Tanzania’s coast, was valued at Sh784 billion.

Arrests at JNIA in recent months indicate that efforts to stop traffickers from using the facility have borne fruit. Tuesday’s arrest is the fourth since the beginning of this year. On January 6, a woman was arrested at the same airport as she was about to fly away with 63 pellets of heroin in her stomach.

The woman, who had a Tanzanian passport, was about to board a flight to Macau, China, when she aroused the suspicion of anti-drugs personnel.

Five days ago, a man holding a Kenyan passport was caught by the special drugs task force carrying 131 pellets of cocaine. The head of the Anti-Drugs Unit said the man had tried to enter the country through JNIA from Brazil. He has yet to appear in court.