Drug bust in Seychelles' waters said to be largest ever; Iranian crew arrested
The crest of the NDEA (Seychelles News Agency)
(Seychelles News Agency) - Seychelles officials on Sunday escorted an Iranian fishing vessel to Port Victoria that the authorities said had been transporting what may be the largest consignment of drugs ever seized in Seychelles' territorial waters.
Shots were fired in order to force the boat to stop, officials said. No fish were found on board.
The vessel was apprehended on Saturday by officials of the Seychelles Coast Guard and National Drugs Enforcement Agency following a joint operation which started on Friday, authorities said.
Drugs found had been concealed in several sections of the boat, NDEA’s Deputy Chief Officer Liam Quinn told SNA on Sunday.
“Initial estimate by the guys onboard said about 150 kilos. We have weighed it up here and so far we have 98.5kg,” said Quinn.
The content of the drugs is the biggest ever seizure in the Seychelles, Quinn has confirmed. The drugs still need to be analysed.
“We think there are several compounds, but it's opiate-based substances. That’s the initial analysis,” said Quinn, adding that there seems to be three different kinds of drugs including heroin.
The authorities are questioning 11 crew members, all Iranian nationals, in connection with the seizure while further investigations and searches on the boat are being carried out.
The Iranian Dhow captured by Seychelles Coastguard and NDEA officials in the Indian Ocean on the 16th April 2016. (NDEA) Photo License: CC-BY
According to an NDEA statement issued on Sunday, the operation to recover the ship and its crew lasted for more than 36 hours.
NDEA’s Deputy Chief Officer said to SNA that the boat had been observed for several hours before it was intercepted at it started steering towards the Seychelles main island, Mahé.
Liam Quinn confirmed that the vessel was apprehended off the coast of Bird Island, which is located some 100km from Mahé.
“Initially some shots were fired to force the boat to stop as they refused to stop,” he said.
The NDEA also confirmed that not a single fish was found during searches carried out on the boat.
“There was hundreds of metres of fishing lines but there was no evidence that they had ever been used,” said Quinn.
The NDEA which acted on the analysis of intelligence gathered “in collaboration with regional partners” said it is not known where the vessel was coming from, although it is believed the drugs originate from the Makran Coast.
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC), traffickers are using dhows sailing from the Makran coast between Iran and Pakistan to transport narcotics destined for the East African coast.
Quinn said intelligence gathered show that the consignment of drugs was “destined for Tanzania.”
“We understand that the boat was headed for Tanzania. Maybe there were some of the consignment destined for Seychelles but as of now we are not able to establish that there is a connection but the fact that they were on course for Mahé and so close to Bird island would definitely indicate there was a Seychelles connection,” he added.
The 11 Iranian crew members involved in the matter are expected to appear before the courts on Monday.