Drug bust on board Thai bulk carrier in Nigeria raises eyebrows

Several Nigerian law enforcement agencies and the Nigerian Navy collaborated on this month to achieve what they called a great success in the ongoing battle against drug smugglers.

Thai bulk carrier Chayanee Naree (IMO 9613434), which had been drifting or moving in loops outside Nigerian waters south of Lagos since arrival from Santos, Brazil, on October 1st, with an ETA of Lagos on October 9th, was seized in a coordinated arrest.

The Nigerian authorities said that agencies were alerted by Nigerian Interpol, and an intelligence report received from the UK Border Force

“Upon entering Nigerian waters, the vessel was intercepted by Nigerian Navy ship Ekulu, and escorted to NPA’s port where she was directed to berth on October 9th 2021 and taken into custody by the navy”, it was announced on October 15th.

“Thereafter, other agencies were invited to conduct an extensive and comprehensive search of the vessel for narcotics and other contraband items. The suspected vessel was thoroughly searched by a combined team of Nigerian Navy, Interpol Nigeria, Nigeria Customs Service and the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency.”

The search took some time. While it began on October 9th, it was not until the evening of October 13th that a bag was found in the cargo hold one, with 30 packages of cocaine inside weighing 32.9kg.

The ship’s crew, consisting of 22 Thai nationals, were arrested.

Questions were raised at the time taken to explore the ship and the remarkably small amount of cocaine seized. With vessels carrying hundreds of kilos of cocaine being arrested, 32.9kg in the hold of a bulk carrier seemed to be the equivalent of petty cash. Added to this was the time taken before the drugs were found. This led to voiced suspicions that the drug bust might not be all that it appeared or was claimed to be.

The ship’s owner PCL said on October 15th in a prompt response to the Stock Exchange of Thailand that at the load port in Santos Brazil, on September 18th drugs were found inside one of the cargo holds of the vessel. Following this, the Brazilian authorities conducted a thorough investigation, following which they were satisfied that none of the crew members were involved in or assisted the smuggling of drugs. “Upon arriving at the discharge berth in Lagos, Nigeria on October 9th 2021, the Nigerian authorities conducted an extensive search of the vessel. However no suspicious objects were uncovered. The vessel then commenced discharging the cargo. However, on 13 October 2021, drugs were found in a cargo hold of the Vessel.

PCL said that “thus far, there have been no charges registered against any our crew members and/or the Company”, adding that “our insurance company and legal counsel are closely involved in the case and providing necessary assistance to the crew members.”
PCL concluded by stating that:
“The Company is committed to conducting business in a lawful manner and strongly condemns any illegal activities, including drug trafficking. The Company affirms that it is not involved in any manner whatsoever with such illegal activities and intends to continue cooperating with the relevant authorities until the case is fully resolved. While the investigation is ongoing, the Company is liaising with the relevant authorities, including the Thai Embassy in Nigeria, in order to ensure that our crew members’ basic rights are preserved.”

2012-built, Singapore-flagged, 33,032 gt Chayanee Naree is owned by Precious Visions Pte Ltd care of manager Precious Shipping PCL of Bangkok, Thailand. ISM manager is Great Circle Shipping Agency of Bangkok, Thailand. It is entered with UK Club on behalf of Precious Visions Pte Ltd.