Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania Flickr/Creative Common

Tanzanian police have arrested eight Iranians and four Pakistanis on charges of possessing 440 pounds of heroin, off the coast of the East African state. Agence France-Presse reported that the heroin – which in Europe would carry a street value of up to 10 million euros ($13.5 million) is the most recent major drug haul in Tanzania.

“The suspects were arrested in the early hours of Tuesday on a dhow [sea vessel] that was sailing from the island of Zanzibar to the commercial capital Dar es Salaam,” Tanzanian police spokesman Godfrey Nzowa told AFP. “They are being held for questioning and necessary legal action will follow.” Nzowa added that the drugs were ferried in a vessel called "Aldahial," which was registered in Kunak, Iran.

“We are yet to know where the suspects were coming from and where they were going, because they claim to speak neither English nor Swahili,” Marine Police and Port Unit Senior Assistant Commander Mboje Kanga said, according to the Guardian. The drug haul was conducted by a large group of Tanzanian authorities, comprising members of the anti-narcotics unit, marine police, officers from the naval division of the Tanzania People's Defence Forces and the Tanzania Intelligence and Security Service. "We are still questioning the suspects so that we establish where the consignment was to be ferried," Nwoza added.

Officials fear that the drugs, which originated in Afghanistan, may represent a new pivot by traffickers to establish Tanzania as a key narcotics hub. As a result, the Tanzanian government has beefed up patrols at its ports.

Over the past year, four huge drug seizures, totaling 1.5 tonnes, were made by a Canadian warship in Tanzanian waters. Just last month, a Canadian military ship seized 265 bags of heroin weighing more than 280 kilograms on a vessel in the Indian Ocean off Tanzania's coast. Canadian military vessels patrol the Indian Ocean as part of Operation ARTEMIS, a maritime security and counterterrorism initiative in the Middle East.

In December, police at the Kilimanjaro International Airport arrested two foreign African nationals carrying 12.7 kilograms of drugs. Some Tanzanians are also suspected of involvement in the drug trade. Last year the government fired four officials accused of helping drug traffickers smuggle 150 kilos of drugs through the Julius Nyerere International Airport in Dar es Salaam.