Arms smugglers' raide
By Nompumelelo Magwaza and Kyle Venktess
Four people, including three women, were arrested on Thursday when Durban police raided a Westville home and seized weapons and ammunition believed to be destined for Somalia to help in the fight against piracy, but which had been illegally diverted.
Among the weapons seized were eight 308 rifles, two shotguns and two AM3 assault rifles with telescopic lens and silencers. They were hidden in one of the rooms in the house.
The firearms were found still in their transportation cases. Police also recovered 592 rounds of ammunition and 12-bore rounds.
Police spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Vincent Mdunge said that preliminary investigations showed the firearms had been transported from Malta.
He refused to say who the weapons were destined for as this was still being investigated.
The investigation which led them to the house in Westville had been ongoing and more firearms could be found.
"We believe the firearms were illegally diverted to South Africa, but how they ended up in Durban remains a mystery," he said.
"We believe the house was being used as a firearms holding area," Mdunge said.
Those arrested, two 20-year-old women, a 28-year-old woman and a 39-year-old man, would appear in the Pinetown Magistrate's Court today.
It is believed that part of the house had been converted into offices where two women were working.
Somali pirates have been involved in a spate of hijackings around the Horn of Africa, including that of a Durban couple who are still being held captive.
Bruno Pelizzari and Deborah Caitz were kidnapped along with skipper Peter Eldridge on October 26.
Ten days after their capture a Dutch naval vessel gave chase and ran their vessel ashore. The pirates fled along with the couple, leaving Eldridge behind after he refused to leave the yacht. Eldridge was duly rescued by the Dutch and brought back to Richards Bay.
On Thursday Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Clayson Monyela said: "There is nothing new on the South African couple who were hijacked by Somali pirates."
In another incident involving South Africans, two men from Cape Town who were falsely arrested for ownership of allegedly smuggled goods as well as for "impersonating journalists", were released and arrived at OR Tambo International Airport on Tuesday.
Anton van der Merwe and Chris Everson, a cameraman and a sound recordist, who both work for an American documentary news show, were travelling to work on an independent production in Somalia. Their producers had told them to board a charter aircraft at Entebbe international airport in Uganda.
Piracy off the coast of Somalia has been growing rapidly, with numerous vessels being hijacked and held for huge ransoms.
A number of international organisations such as the International Maritime Organisation and the World Food Programme have expressed concern over the rise in acts of piracy, incidents of which have contributed to an increase in shipping costs and impeded delivery of food aid shipments.
A multinational coalition naval task force has been established to monitor and inspect vessels along the north-east African coastline.
Countries which are party to this task force include France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States. - The Mercury