A top Antigua and Barbuda maritime official said yesterday that the MV Vega Azurit – a cargo vessel that was intercepted in Jamaica with $112 million in cocaine, is not registered in Antigua and has no links to that island.
Captain Jose A Gillis, who identified himself as the senior deputy director of the Antigua and Barbuda Department of Marine Services and Merchant Shipping, in a correspondence to Stabroek News yesterday said that the vessel that “you are reporting as being probed in [the] cocaine incident in Jamaica is not registered on our books”. He gave the name of the vessel as MV Azurit, but this newspaper was told that MV Vega Azurit is the registered name.
He said that as a result of reports that the same vessel was involved in a history of drug interceptions of cocaine including “a serious one in March”, officials on the island conducted investigations and found that the vessel intercepted in March was named Vega Azurit, which is also not Antigua and Barbuda registered. This vessel, Captain Gillis explained had transhipped containers from MV Stadt Rotenburg, “this one [is] duly registered with us but without any suspicion of drug smuggling”.
Captain Gillis requested that the names of the vessels involved be corrected and that it should be published that no Antigua and Barbuda Flag Ship was involved in any wrong doing.
Based on initial information this newspaper had gathered the intercepted ship was said to be owned by an Antigua and Barbuda company, but registered in Monrovia, Liberia. It was subsequently revealed that the MV Vega Azurit is owned and managed by the Vega Reederei company of Hamburg, Germany. It had been placed under watch internationally by drug enforcement units as a result of drug busts in the past several months.
According to the Jamaica Customs Department, the cocaine, which weighed 50 pounds, was found in a container at Berth 9, Port Bustamante, in Kingston, aboard the ship last Tuesday. The vessel was targeted by the Jamaica Customs Contraband Enforcement Team and the police.
According to The Gleaner, the Customs Department said the drug was found after the joint team searched a 40-foot refrigerated container that had been declared empty. The container, a source said, had a broken seal.
Reports are that during the search, five boxes labelled ‘Coke’, ‘Pepsi’ and ‘Canada Dry’ were found with a white powdery substance resembling cocaine inside them. They were taken to the Transnational Crime and Narcotics Division (TCND) offices where the substance was tested and weighed.
There has been no arrest in the case as yet.
The cargo vessel left Guyana’s shores on Sunday en-route to the United States. The vessel had arrived in Guyana on Saturday from neighbouring Suriname and departed several hours later around 1 am on Sunday. This is the third such find on the same ship for this year, this newspaper was told.