Cape Town - A blue drum found on New Year’s Day and packed with what police believe to be cocaine is the latest of four massive hauls of the narcotic to mysteriously wash up on beaches in and around Mossel Bay since Christmas.
In total, police have found what could be R100 million worth of the smuggled drug since the first package was spotted floating in the water off the coast of Hartenbos on Christmas Day.
But while authorities puzzle out the source of the powder, experts are certain the pricey flotsam is the result of a botched attempt to smuggle the drugs into Knysna.
Police spokesman Malcolm Pojie said the latest haul – a drum containing a black bag with 25 bricks – was spotted by a holidaymaker after it washed ashore between the beaches of Hartenbos and Klein Brak River on Wednesday afternoon.
The day before, a man standing on the balcony of his home spotted another blue drum attached to a bag floating in the water off the beach in Rheebok, near Mossel Bay.
When police arrived at the beach, they discovered 25 bricks of the same raw, unprocessed powder that was in the other barrel. Both hauls were sent to police forensic labs for analysis.
Pojie said if it was concluded that it was cocaine in its refined, “clean” form, the estimated street value of each 1kg brick could be R1m – putting the total value of both 25kg drums at R50m.
The discovery of these drums follows two similar retrievals last week: one in the sea near Hartenbos on Christmas Day and another near Pinnacle Point. Each barrel contained 25kg of what appeared to be cocaine.
Pojie said police are in the early stages of the investigation and could not confirm whether the drums all originated from the same source.
However, Herman van Niekerk, the operations manager at Maritime Risk Solutions – a private maritime security firm – was certain that the barrels belonged to one of the big crime syndicates operating in the country.
“These guys come in through Knysna and the nearby areas because they are basically like open ports… Nobody is policing the coastline… ”
In 2010, Knysna was the setting for one of South Africa’s biggest drug busts after police searched a Toledo fishing boat moored at a waterfront flat and found R9 billion worth of cocaine.
Stellenbosch University criminologist Grobler said Knysna, Mossel Bay, George and Wilderness were easy targets for smugglers as their coastlines were rarely policed.
Police have urged the public to look out for suspicious parcels on beaches or floating out at sea.