GLOBAL ORGANISED CRIME
R151-million cocaine disguised in meat boxes seized in Durban in latest SA-Brazil bust
Over roughly two months, South African police have seized more than R360-million worth of cocaine that arrived in this country from Brazil. Daily Maverick previously reported that a trafficking conduit between Brazil and Durban has been used for more than two decades.
In what has become a repeat scenario, another multimillion-rand cocaine consignment, that was smuggled to South Africa from Brazil, has been intercepted at Durban harbour.
National South African Police Service (SAPS) spokesperson Brigadier Athlenda Mathe said the cocaine, worth R151-million, was seized on Monday, 4 December.
[DURBAN HARBOUR DRUG BUST] Police have seized R151 million worth of cocaine at the Durban Harbour from a container that was on a vessel to SA from Brazil. This is the third MASSIVE drug bust in two months. In October R150 mil worth of cocaine was seized at the same harbour. pic.twitter.com/H9BeFo0tZU
— Athlenda Mathe (@AthlendaM) December 5, 2023
“Members were following up on intelligence and monitored a container that was on a vessel from Brazil,” she said.
“A multidisciplinary team inspected the container at a cold storage facility and found 433 blocks of cocaine disguised in meat boxes.”
Food company logo
Based on photographs of the crackdown that the SAPS issued, some of the cocaine, in brick form, was contained in packaging with an image of an owl on it.
Other bricks were in packaging with the word “Seara”, and a logo printed on it.
An online search showed that Seara was the name of a food production company, with a matching logo, that started out in Brazil’s Santa Catarina.
According to Mathe, no arrests were made in connection with Monday’s cocaine confiscation.
The Hawks took over the investigation.
R366-million cocaine seized
“This is the third massive drug bust in two months at this harbour. In October, the same team seized cocaine worth R150-million,” Mathe said.
That R150-million was intercepted in two batches.
Daily Maverick reported that on 18 October 2023, a vessel making its way from Brazil was intercepted in Durban harbour and R70-million worth of cocaine was discovered on it.
Read more in Daily Maverick: R70m cocaine seized in Durban harbour months after ‘cartel diver’ boarding SA flight arrested in Brazil
Two days later, on 20 October, as part of follow-up investigations into the shipment of drugs, police discovered another cocaine consignment from Brazil, worth about R80-million.
This meant that over three days in October, a total of R150-million of cocaine from Brazil was intercepted.
Combined with Monday’s consignment, it means that R301-million of cocaine from Brazil, and linked to Durban, was confiscated in South Africa in less than two months.
Last month, at a seaport in Gqeberha on 2 November, a R65-million cocaine consignment from Brazil was also seized, bringing the total amount of the drug seized from there in more than two months to R366-million.
Decades-old smuggling route
Daily Maverick has reported extensively on drug trafficking between South Africa and Brazil.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Blood ties: South Africa caught in a web of murderous, drug-smuggling Brazilian gangs
Focus has also been placed on the Port of Durban, with Daily Maverick previously stating that global narcotraffickers seemed to favour it when it came to smuggling drugs into, and through, South Africa.
That port, meanwhile, has recently experienced a major backlog in terms of container ships.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Cocaine’s deadly destinations – the Durban link to the bodies piling up in Brazil’s drug battles
The Hawks previously indicated to Daily Maverick that a smuggling channel between Durban and Brazil’s Port of Santos, in particular, had been on authorities’ radar since the early 2000s.
SA-Brazil police partnership
On Tuesday, 5 December, Mathe, referencing the R151-million interception of the previous day, said that National Police Commissioner Fannie Masemola last week met the chief of Brazil’s Federal Police, Andrei Passos Rodrigues, in Vienna, Austria and “discussed the influx of drugs into SA from their ports”.
“A decision was made to enhance the level of cooperation which has already seen great successes in the sharing of information on drugs and other criminal activities as well as countering international crime syndicates.”
There have been several cocaine interceptions in Brazil that link to South Africa.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Coke smugglers playing chicken with South Africa’s port authorities
For example, in May this year, Brazil’s Federal Police announced they had been investigating a group of global traffickers.
Through those investigations, according to a police statement, officers started focusing on a professional diver “whose role in the criminal organisation consists of storing the drug on ships docked in Brazilian port terminals, as well as removing it from the sea boxes, through diving activity abroad”.
According to the Brazilian police: “The investigated diver was arrested in Sao Paulo while boarding a flight to South Africa.”
Corrupt harbour workers are also believed to be involved in drug trafficking.
Such suspicions extend to the police.
Last year Hawks spokesperson Katlego Mogale told Daily Maverick: “Police officers have previously been arrested in cocaine interceptions, particularly related to Durban. [A] special task team has been assigned to conduct investigations which are ongoing and still sensitive.”
In July 2021 cocaine worth R200-million was discovered in a bakkie following the hijacking of a cargo truck after it left Durban harbour.
Police officers had been among those arrested for that.
A few months later, in November 2021, the Hawks announced that 514kg of cocaine, worth about R200-million, had been stolen from its Serious Organised Crime offices in Port Shepstone in KwaZulu-Natal.
At the time, a statement was released which said: “One of the safes in the office, which were used to store exhibits, was tampered with.
“The suspects stole… cocaine… and ransacked the office where safes were kept.”
Some in police circles believed the burglary was an inside job. DM