Tuesday, September 29, 2015

'Drugs and Guns' Ship Released but Questions Remain Unanswered

Vessel Freed by Authorities to Continue Voyage
Shipping News Feature

KENYA – NORWAY – After more than a week in detention at the Port of Mombasa, Kenya, the Höegh Transporter has been released and allowed to continue her ocean voyage to South Africa, West Africa and Mexico, having been held following the discovery of a cache of undeclared weapons and suspected drugs inside a consignment of vehicles shipped by the United Nations. No crew have been arrested and no drugs were found on board, easing worries of sinking the ship in accordance with Kenyan policy.

On arrival in Mombasa on September 17, the ship was boarded by Kenyan authorities in search of weapons and drugs. According to Höegh Autoliners, after a short search a consignment of handguns was found aboard stowed in a consignment of trucks. The vehicles had originally been loaded by Indian military personnel and shipped by the UN from Mumbai, India, to Mombasa in transit for the UN peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Despite the vessel being released, following veiled government threats to ‘blow her up’ if contraband was discovered aboard, there are still some conflicting reports as to why this incident occurred. Some news sources claim an administrative mistake has been blamed for the undeclared weapons with the UN claiming that the munitions apparently were declared in the bill of lading but not in the ship's manifest. Knowing the connection between Bs/L and manifest this is presumably incorrect and in a short statement Höegh said:

“It is Höegh Autoliners’ policy not to load weapons on vessels engaged in civilian traffic. Had we been aware of the presence of guns inside this consignment of vehicles shipped by United Nations, the cargo would neither have been booked nor loaded. The fact that the vehicles contained guns which were loaded without our knowledge caused a breach of Kenyan laws and our own strict policies. It is highly regrettable that a grave mistake on the part of the shipper has caused major difficulties and delays for other customers, the crew and ship. The cooperation with the local authorities has been good, and their reaction understandable, given the seriousness of the issue.”

It is apparently common practice for the UN to strip down munitions and stow them inside armoured vehicle they are shipping. In this case it would seem Höegh was aware that it was carrying armoured vehicles but not the weaponry stowed inside the trucks.

Additionally, the death of Australian national Shamus Mangan, a UN Office Drugs and Crime operative mentioned in our original story, has been declared as unrelated to the detention and search by Kenyan officials of the Höegh Transporter. Despite this no clear reason for Mr Mangan’s untimely demise has been given and the Höegh declaration that the munitions found were ‘handguns’ does not tally with the photographs local news sources carried, clearly showing M16 rifles and machine guns.

A Höegh spokesman said that linking Mangan’s death and the ship was ‘pure media speculation’ and the UN Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC), who he worked for, insisted the two were unconnected, yet would not answer questions on his role, and whether he was in fact linked to surveillance of the vessel.