Kenyan police are questioning the Iranian captain and nine Pakistani and Indian crew members from general cargo ship Amin Darya who were arrested last week on suspicion of drugs smuggling.
The Kenyan Navy arrested the ship off Lamu on Wednesday. It was brought to the Mtongwe military base within Mombasa port, where the bagged cargo of cement was unloaded and the ship searched using sniffer dogs.
Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, Mombasa Acting Police Commander Sevelino Kubai said that the crew claimed the ship was carrying 300 tonnes of cement.
Kubai said that the vessel was one of two that had sailed from Pakistan and called in to Mogadishu, Somalia, apparently en route for Zanzibar.
Paperwork found on board stated that the cargo had been loaded in Mombasa. Early reports suggested the ship was called Al Noor (or Alnoor), but the vessel is now accepted to be the Amin Darya (IMO 8630784), homeported in Bandar Bushehr, Iran.
The 496gt general cargo vessel was built as the Kissho Maru in 1987 and renamed in 2004. At some point the flag was changed from Sierra Leone to Iran.
However, Kenyan media stated that the ship was Zanzibar-flagged, and the Tanzania Zanzibar International Register of Shipping is known to have been used by Iranian vessels attempting evade sanctions on the country’s shipping.
Amin Darya was last noted as classed to the Asia Classification Society, based in Iran. The vessel is said to be both owned and operated by Ebrahim AM of Dubai, and companies called Ebrahim Shipping operate out of the UAE and Pakistan.
However, at about the time Kissho Maru was renamed Amin Darya, a ship management company called Pishgaman Amin Darya Shipping was set up in Tehran.
The past few months have seen several major seizures of drugs in the Arabian Gulf and the western Indian Ocean.
The year began with a Canadian warship’s seizure of 280kg of heroin in the Indian Ocean. A month later, 201kg of the same drug, worth $5.5M, was found on a Pakistani- and Iranian-crewed, Iranian-registered vessel near Kigamboni, Tanzania, heading for Zanzibar.
Australian frigate HMAS Darwin, serving with Combined Task Force 150, has been particularly active in intercepting drug shipments.
On 25 April it took more than a tonne of heroin, valued at $290M from a dhow 27nm east of Mombasa, 786kg of hashish (cannabis resin) from another dhow in the Arabian Sea on 19 May and a record 6.2 tonnes of hashish, worth $250M, on 28 June off the east coast of Africa.
In an echo of the controversial ‘catch and release’ policy employed in the early years of counter-piracy operations in the region, most of the smugglers escape prosecution.
Combined Maritime Force spokesperson Lt Cdr Sally Armstrong of the UK Royal Navy said after April’s intervention: “No arrests were made. After the heroin seizure was made and the drugs destroyed at sea, the crew of the dhow was allowed to continue on its way. For operational reasons, it is normal practice for the people on the smuggling vessels to be allowed to continue on their way once all the illegal narcotics carried aboard have been removed and destroyed.”