MOMBASA, Kenya (Reuters) - Kenyan soldiers and security services cordoned off East Africa’s main port for hours on Friday and raided a Norwegian-flagged ship suspected of carrying drugs and firearms, police and officials said.
The vessel’s Norwegian owner and operator, Hoegh Autoliners, said it was cooperating with authorities who were inspecting cargo offloaded at the Indian Ocean hub of Mombasa.
East Africa has become a key export route for Afghan heroin destined for Europe. Coastguards and navies from the region, short of funds and anti-trafficking expertise, have struggled to stem the flow of drugs through their waters.
“Based on intelligence gathered, the ship is suspected to be carrying firearms and drugs, but we shall confirm that once the inspection is done,” said Francis Wanjohi, the Kenyan coastal region’s police commander.
The security operation paralyzed the region’s main gateway for imports and exports for several hours before authorities allowed the rest of the facility to reopen.
Hoegh Autoliners said in a statement that authorities first boarded the ship, which had sailed from Mumbai in India, after it berthed in Mombasa on Thursday afternoon.
“The vessel’s crew, our local agent in Kenya and Höegh Autoliners’ local African operations team is cooperating fully with Kenyan authorities,” the company said.
“We at this point do not know when the inspection will be completed and the vessel cleared to sail.”
Police sources had earlier said the ship was German-owned and named Mv Hoegh.
In July, Kenyan police seized 341.7 kg of heroin hidden in the diesel tank of a ship - the biggest single seizure of drugs at Mombasa.
Heroin is typically transported from Pakistan and Iran to east Africa, known for its porous borders and weak maritime surveillance, and on to Europe.
In November, an Australian Navy warship patrolling Indian Ocean waters seized heroin worth $158 million. Another Australian warship raided a dhow with 1,023 kg of heroin on board near Kenya in April 2014
Mombasa handles imports of fuel and other goods for Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia, and exports of tea and coffee from the entire region.
Writing by Aaron Maasho; Additional reporting by Stine Jacobsen in Oslo; Editing by George Obulutsa, Andrew Heavens