By BILHAM KIMATI, 13th May 2011 @ 13:53, HOME Affairs minister, Mr Shamsi Vuai Nahodha has refuted allegations levelled against him by mangrove wood smugglers that he once defended them and ordered immediate release of arrested suspects and their contraband. I only have six months since my new appointment. I have never issued any release orders for mangrove poles and logs impounded by authorities. I am only hearing this from you (reporter) for the first time, minister Nahodha told the 'Daily News on Saturday' from Dodoma. His reaction follows a recent report gathered from the forest products Coastal Surveillance Unit indicating that control operations in the area became complicated as smugglers operated with impunity, with some claiming to have the backing of high ranking government officials. It was in February, this year, when coastal marine guards intercepted a dhow near Mafia Island loaded with 25 tonnes of wood worth over 6m/-. The owner phoned the forest officials and sounded extremely arrogant. Mr Paul Ndahami the Head of Marine Surveillance Unit of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism took charge of the operation and wanted to pursue the matter to have all suspects prosecuted in a court of law. However, he received threats from the big timer based in Zanzibar. Through telephone conversation the Zanzibar tycoon said we (guards) would regret confiscating the shipment. We were not shaken as long as we acted according to the law that prevents unauthorized harvesting and shipment of forest products, Ndahami explained. A few hours later, Mr Ndahami added, one of the high ranking police officers in Mafia District pressed for the immediate release of the seizure insisting that he was acting on orders from the Home Affairs minister. The police officer further talked about possible consequences that included ruining of the union ties unless the confiscated consignment was released without delay. It was released unconditionally. Last week the Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Mr Ezekiel Maige, took part in a four-day coastal surveillance setting off from Nyamisati in Rufiji District, Coast Region southwards to Lindi. According to the National Forest Law Enforcement Unit-in-charge, Mr Hajanson Mloge, over 100 unauthorized outlet routes existed along the extensive 1,000 kilometre-plus coastline. Realizing that the coastline is broad and that the coast guards are incapable of covering the whole area, illegal exporters of mangrove wood have dramatically increased in the recent past and reported to have formed a well coordinated communication syndicate to monitor coastal operations. Dishonest dealers have planted informers to monitor activities by the surveillance unit. They know exactly when the only TCMP P2 engine boat would be off shore for inspection just to alert ferrymen, Mr Mloge explained. Expressing anger over the ongoing indiscriminate deforestation of mangrove forests in Rufiji River Delta and other places, Mr Bakari Aboud, a resident of Kilwa Kivinje, asked minister Maige to establish a control office in Zanzibar to impound dhows entering Malindi Port on daily basis loaded with untaxed cargo. Talks are underway with authorities in Zanzibar aimed to find ways to cooperate more efficiently to enhance control over illegal transportation of forest products. More surveillance facilities (boats and trained personnel) will be deployed to bring to justice all suspects, Mr Maige pledged. According to records presented to the minister by the surveillance unit 39,289 pieces of mangrove timber, (8,238 poles and 1,527 logs worth 235.7m/-) were seized in the last five years. However, the minister expressed doubt on the figures provided, saying it could be higher. He suspected conspiracy between forest officials and smugglers as the number of seizures in five years did not reflect the seriousness of the problem and the reported delivery of mangrove wood at Malindi Port. On the first day of inspection led by the minister, for example, Mr Silimu Amir Dai was apprehended for illegally ferrying 560 poles of mangrove wood. He claimed that the contraband belonged to a Zanzibari based businessman whom he identified as Abdul Lipembo. The suspect said that over 20 boats of similar size from the Mainland arrive at Malindi Port daily bringing to 11,200 the number of poles smuggled every day. The Board Chairperson of the National environment Management Council (NEMC) Ms Cynthia Hilda Ngoye underscored the need to promote awareness of the values of forests, woodlands and wetlands. She also spoke about the importance of prudent use at village, district, regional and central government levels through cooperation between district authorities and the need for community education on environmental conservation. Rufiji Delta is the natural drainage basin containing the largest mangrove forest in the world. The area is rich in marine life that offers a healthy habitation for variety of fish. It contains the largest estuarine mangrove forest on the eastern seaboard of the African continent and is of considerable conservation and economic significance.