Saldanha Bay residents want other vessels searched thoroughly after R583m drug bust
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Cape Town - In the second-biggest drug bust to be made in South Africa, police seized a massive cocaine haul at the port of Saldanha Bay estimated at R583 million.
The police found 973 blocks of compressed cocaine in three compartments of a fishing vessel.
Ten foreign nationals, four Bulgarians and six from Myanmar, are expected to appear in the Vredenburg Magistrate’s Court today after they were arrested on Monday evening and charged with dealing in drugs.
Police spokesperson Novela Potelwa said investigations were continuing as the detectives sought to determine the origin and intended destination of the consignment.
Gatvol spokesperson Ashraf Schutt, who witnessed the operation, said criminals took advantage of the fact that Saldanha was a small harbour with fewer police.
“The police have been monitoring the situation for the past few weeks. As a result from yesterday (Monday), the traffic police were patrolling close to the entrance of the harbour and were somehow expecting the vessel to come.
“The people of Saldanha have had enough of drug smuggling operations that are occurring in the harbour, as it has created unemployment, because only foreigners are working there. We need better security, because this shows that this drug smuggling has been happening for months, if not years.
“We believe that there was an amount of drugs that were smuggled in the harbour without us knowing, because people are driving up and down loading stuff. Things like these don't happen at once. It is a continuous operation, and they surely have tested the grounds a couple of times,” he said.
Schutt said the community wanted the harbour to be closed to allow police to search the vessels thoroughly.
“The community had a meeting after they heard about the bust, and want it to be closed, because we need to protect our assets. Our children are dying from drugs and gangsterism, and there are bad criminal elements within the community,” Schutt said.
Saldanha Bay Municipality mayoral committee member for corporate services and public safety, Andre Truter, said the bust was an example of how effective intelligence policing was.
“I hope this will lead to the source and the destination. It’s a major breakthrough to keep drugs away from our communities and youth. It’s a huge blow for organised crime, and it will show them that they cannot pick small municipalities and think that they will find a safe haven,” Truter said.
Police National Commissioner Khehla Sitole praised the team involved in the bust and encouraged them to build a strong case to ensure that the suspects received harsh sentences.
“South Africa should not be used as a transit point or destination for the illicit drug trade. We have a responsibility for removing drugs from our streets. This is a welcome disruption and a huge blow to drug organised crime,” said Sitole.