According to Mast (Maritime Asset Security and Training), a risk management and security company based in London, Sri Lanka and Singapore, the volume of heroin being trafficked through southern and East Africa’s coastal countries has risen dramatically in recent years. “This Southern Route - or, as some jaded observers call it, the ‘highway of impunity’ - is part of a major transit path for heroin being shipped from Afghanistan to Europe, and a few other markets,” Mast states.
Another research paper undertaken for Enact - Enhancing Africa’s Response to Transnational Organised Crime - which is funded by the EU, referred to the eastern seaboard of Africa as the Heroin Coast.
In 2015 the UN office on drugs and crime said South Africa was the regional hub for drug trafficking.
Not very flattering descriptions of what we call home, but as Enact described it, “in recent years the volume of heroin shipped from Afghanistan along a network of maritime routes in East and southern Africa appears to have increased considerably”.
The paper said while most of this heroin was destined for Western markets, there was a spin-off trade for local consumption.
“An integrated regional criminal market has developed, both shaping and shaped by political developments in the region.”
It stated that Africa was experiencing the sharpest increase in heroin use worldwide, and a spectrum of criminal networks and political elites in East and southern Africa were substantially enmeshed in the trade.
Locally the heroin is used in the manufacture of substances whose names we are familiar with - woonga and nyaope - perhaps not realising that they are forms of low-grade heroin mixed with bulking agents.
Until recently it was commonly thought that drugs were smuggled into South Africa and other regions through Mozambique and Tanzania, with the northern regions of South Africa’s neighbour susceptible to drug and other smuggling, including people trafficking, by way of the multitude of small craft such as dhows that operate anonymously along a large and scarcely patrolled coastline.
These dhows don’t come ashore and are met at sea off the coast outside territorial waters by small craft that ferry the illicit cargo ashore, where it disappears along the tracks and roads to the south.
Further north in the Arabian Sea there are regular intercepts of these dhows by naval ships of the Combined Maritime Force, which consists of 33 nations who provide ships to undertake patrols aimed at preventing smuggling and acts of terror. But come further south and the patrols are almost non-existent, although South Africa Navy’s Operation Copper seeks to redress this in the Mozambique Channel.
But now, according to Mast and other observers, an increasing amount of heroin is being delivered closer to home, along the KZN coast and even via the harbours of South Africa, which are being used as conduits for this traffic. This suggests the smuggled cargo is shipped directly via the ports. If anyone is impressed by the tight security at our ports, where access is denied to anyone without a permit - and those are not easy to obtain, even by legitimate ship agents, brokers, surveyors and other port stakeholders - just question how so many people from East Africa are finding their way into and out of our ports as stowaways.
There is even a colony of stowaways living in Durban and has been for years, as they await the ship of their choice.