Saldanha 'cocaine ship' suspects stay behind bars until next court date

12 March 2021 - 13:39
Ten people were arrested after police seized nearly 1,000 bricks of cocaine worth R583m on a fishing vessel off the Saldanha coast in the Western Cape.
Ten people were arrested after police seized nearly 1,000 bricks of cocaine worth R583m on a fishing vessel off the Saldanha coast in the Western Cape.
Image: SAPS

The case against 10 men accused of smuggling nearly a ton of cocaine into SA aboard a ship in Saldanha Bay Harbour has been postponed until March 23.

Four of the accused are Bulgarians: Mario Vasev, 47, Asen Georgiev Ivanov, 51, Borislav Stoyanov Atanasov, 45, and Atanas Bikov, 53.

National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) spokesperson Eric Ntabazalila said the state had found a Bulgarian interpreter after their defence counsel said none of them were fluent enough in English to follow court proceedings.

The suspects were arrested in a late night raid on March 1 aboard the Windward. The police said they found cocaine valued at R583m aboard the vessel.

Among those arrested were the ship’s crew, including its captain, Kyaw Kyaw Han, 42, and his crew: chief engineer Khin Aung, 55, and sailors Nyein Win, 28, Thaw Tin Win, 52, Kyaw Win, 36, and Zin Kyaw, 27.

The crew are all from Myanmar and the state has yet to find a Burmese interpreter for them. The state prosecutor told the court during their last appearance there was no registered interpreter from Myanmar in SA.

The Sunday Times Daily reported on Friday that some of the Bulgarians were suspected to be part of a Bulgarian organised crime syndicate with links to a huge transnational drug smuggling operation with a foothold in SA.

All the accused will remain in custody in Malmesbury prison until their next court appearance, when the defence and the state are expected to present information for a possible bail hearing.

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