A ship bringing 10,000 tonnes of Morocco fertiliser to Mombasa has fled to the high seas to avoid the cargo being tested before it is offloaded.
This comes in the wake of a scandal in which fertiliser described by the authorities as contaminated or substandard was allowed into the country and released to farmers.
On Wednesday, the Director of Criminal Investigations, Mr George Kinoti, said he would pursue the vessel using Interpol to make sure it does not offload the cargo anywhere. "If it had genuine cargo, why did it make a U-turn even after they had paid Sh18 million as taxes?" asked Mr Kinoti.
The cargo belongs to Office Cherifien des Phosphates (OCP), one of the world's largest phosphate exporters. Recently, the firm was accused by the government of importing fertiliser contaminated with mercury. The company denied the claim, saying it was being targeted unfairly.
Clearing firm Bollore Transport and Logistics erroneously informed customs that the ship, Mykonos Bay, was carrying clinker and asked for direct release, an arrangement where cargo bypasses the usual checks and inspection by customs officials and is fast-tracked into waiting trucks for transport to the rest of the country.
Clinker is a coal residue used in the manufacture of cement. A Kenya Revenue Authority official told the Nation that the cargo, not being sensitive, can usually be granted direct release.
Port authorities in Mombasa refused to grant direct release as requested and asked that samples of the cargo -- whose total value was put at Sh368 million -- be sent to a laboratory in Nairobi for testing. It is at this point that the ship set off for the high seas. It is currently docked off the coast of Mozambique.
The Pre-Export Verification of Conformity (PVoC) certificate shows that the ship left Casablanca, Morocco, on May 25 for Mombasa.
The exporter is listed as OCP SA while the importer is OCP Kenya, both subsidiaries of OCP Group, a multinational fertiliser manufacturer and distributor headquartered in Morocco. The certificate indicates that the ship was carrying 10,000 tonnes (10 million kilogrammes) of Di-Ammonium Phosphate (DAP) fertiliser in bulk. Further, documents show that OCP insured the cargo with Minet and paid a fee of Sh654,689.
Bollore is listed as the clearing and forwarding agent authorised to transact on behalf of OCP at the port. A letter signed by Mr John Karanja, the operations manager at Bollore, made the request for direct release.
In a text message to the Nation, he said misrepresentation of fertiliser as clinker was a "typo error" because the previous day he had done a letter for clinker belonging to another client.
OCP Kenya said it had no idea why Bollore classified its cargo as clinker but confirmed that it had rerouted its cargo due to what it said were "unnecessary" tests that Kenyan officials wanted to conduct.
A public relations officer representing the company said the cargo had already undergone inspection in Morocco before being cleared for export, adding that it did not need further inspection in Mombasa once it docked.
"Further tests would have forced the ship to dock in Mombasa for an extra two weeks as it awaited clearance. OCP reads mischief in this and suspects that its competitors are trying to sabotage its operations in Kenya," said Mr Alfred Ng'ang'a, speaking for the company.
The company also issued a statement suspending exports to Kenya due to what it said were "serious operational challenges and risks arising from unfounded accusations, which are based on opportunistic misinformation and defamatory public denunciations".
"In these circumstances, we consider that the legal security of our operations in Kenya is no longer assured nor tenable," said OCP. "We have therefore decided to temporarily suspend our exports to the country forthwith."
OCP Kenya has been in the headlines after its directors were arrested by the Directorate of Criminal Investigations last week for importing 5.8 million kilogrammes of substandard fertiliser.
Investigations by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions found that the fertiliser did not meet the required standards and that, instead of being shipped back to Morocco, it had been released to the market.
The ODPP recommended that the OCP directors and the Kenya Bureau of Standards officials who were arrested at the same time be tried for attempted murder due to the dangerous nature of the fertiliser.
But in a statement issued on Sunday, OCP denied any wrongdoing and said the company had complied with all standards and done its own "rigorous tests" to ascertain the safety and efficacy of its fertiliser.
"Indeed, OCP Kenya complied fully with Kenyan procedures and regulations in place in connection with the cargo targeted by this action. The full compliance of this cargo with such procedures and regulations has been indisputably confirmed by independent expert analyses performed by several internationally renowned inspection agencies," the company claimed in the statement.
The Maritime Traffic website first captured the ship on June 22 sailing off the Mozambique coast at Beira at a speed of 1.2 knots. The website, which lists the daily positions and port calls of all marine vessels, on Wednesday reported that Mykonos Bay was anchored in Beira. The vessel is listed as "arrived".
It is also not clear whether the ship was actually heading to Mombasa since the Automatic Information System (AIS) data used on ships and by vessel traffic services indicated that Mykonos Bay was heading to Beira when it left Morocco's Port de Jorg Lasfar on May 11, 2018.