A week after a large consignment of undeclared weapons and a white powder — suspected to be cocaine — was found hidden in a shipment of trucks meant for a United Nations peacekeeping mission, the UN Secretary-General and the UN Information Centre-Nairobi have issued a statement claiming that the failure to declare the weapons in the shipping manifest had occurred due to miscommunication between the Indian authorities and the UN contractor who was responsible for the shipment. The statement made no reference to the white powder.
In a front-page report, mid-day had highlighted how the port authorities at Mombasa, Kenya, had found the powder and the dismantled weapons hidden in Tata Motors trucks that had been shipped out of Mumbai for a UN peacekeeping mission in the Congo.
The shipment was carried by the Norwegian vessel, the Hoegh Transporter, but the official manifest had no mention of either the powder or the weapons (‘Kenyan cops find drugs in ship carrying trucks from Mumbai for peacekeeping mission’, September 23).
The seizure blew the lid off a suspected international drug cartel, which Mumbai’s Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) is now investigating. The press statement emailed to mid-day by the UN authorities states that the weapons “were part of a legitimate and declared” cargo packed in Mumbai to be sent to the UN peacekeeping force in the Congo.
The release further said the weapons had not been placed in the tyres for concealment, but to protect them from damage: “The weapons were declared in the bill of lading but not in the manifest.
It is normal practice for weapons attached to the APCs (armoured personnel carrier) to be dismantled and placed inside the carriers in order to avoid damage whilst being shipped.” The UN spokesperson further wrote that the Indian authorities had provided a list of the weapons on board only after the ship had sailed from Mumbai.
“A request was sent by the UN contractor responsible for the shipment to the Mombasa ship agent, to amend the manifest, but since this was not possible, a declaration of the weapons accompanying the military vehicles was attached,” the email stated.
Weapons were not declared to us, says Hoegh
In a statement released by Höegh Autoliners, the company said they were unaware that the shipment on board contained weapons. “During a cargo inspection which has taken place over the last few days in Mombasa, the Kenyan authorities have discovered weapons, not declared in the cargo manifest, inside some of the UN vehicles. It is our understanding that these weapons belong to the UN vehicles in which they were found, and were for use by the UN during their peacekeeping mission. The weapons were not declared to us at the time the cargo was loaded, and the fact that weapons were in the vehicles is in violation with our terms of transportation, which clearly states that no arms or ammunition are accepted for shipment.”
Vehicles were assets of the Army: Tata
A Tata Motors spokesperson told mid-day that the company had nothing to do with this incident. The official said that the trucks had already been provided earlier to the Indian Army, and not specifically for the UN mission. “There was no separate tender for a UN Peacekeeping mission. The vehicles onboard the ship were previously supplied and, hence, were assets of the Indian Army. As a part of ongoing defence requirements, Tata Motors regularly bids for tenders related to peacekeeping missions, and these vehicles are built as per specifications, with requisite vendors,” the spokesperson added.
Indian Army explains
As mid-day had reported earlier, consignments meant for UN peacekeeping missions are usually routed through the Indian Army (IA). “IA had handed over a consignment of 205 vehicles, including 36 APCs (of the BMP make) with inherent weapons to UN contracted Merchant Vessel (for end-to-end delivery) at Mumbai on September 11, with a detailed list of weapons and equipment. Any further addition of weapons or any other material placed within the IA vehicles is not the responsibility of the IA. The issue has been taken up with UN HQ & Mission HQ at DRC and it is being progressed further by the UN,” the Army said in a statement yesterday.
Amid suspicions that the white powder, recovered from the tyres of the trucks, might be cocaine, the spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General, Stephane Dujarric said, “On the issue of white powder that was found around the vehicles, the Kenyan authorities are checking. Again, from what we understand from Mumbai and from the shippers, is that often, on new vehicles, there’s some anti-humidity powder that's put around tyres for long shipments, which is a white powder.” - Agencies
'Break in protocol'
The UN authorities are in turn upset that the shipment was raided by the Kenyan authorities without waiting for a UN official’s presence. “It is unfortunate that the Kenyan authorities inspected the cargo without a UN presence which runs contrary to established protocol and provisions surrounding privileges and immunities,” reads the UN statement.