AUTHORITIES arrested five people and seized P6.6 million worth of smuggled cigarettes in an anti-smuggling operation off Sulu, the Naval Forces Western Mindanao (NFWM) reported Monday, August 1.

Rear Admiral Toribio Adaci Jr., NFWM commander, identified those arrested as Monal Sappari Haili, Asmad Ismael Tingkahan, Latas Tingkahan Ismael, Bardi Ukkan, and Asli Tingkahan, all crew of the motorboat loaded with smuggled cigarettes.

Adaci said they were arrested in an anti-smuggling operation around 3:45 a.m. Sunday, July 31, two nautical miles east off Balod Island, Sulu.

Adaci said the NFWM personnel, together with Bureau of Customs (BOC) operatives, launched the anti-smuggling operation following information about the shipment of smuggled cigarettes that led to the confiscation of the contraband and arrest of five people.

Adaci said the operating unit cornered the watercraft after a brief chase as they attempted to flee under cover of darkness after sensing the approach of Navy's patrol boat.

"The operatives caught up with the watercraft and subjected it to visit, board, search and seizure procedure, which led to the discovery and seizure of its undocumented cargo," Adaci added.

He said the motorboat was loaded with P6.6 million worth of smuggled Fort and Astro cigarettes that were transported out of Sulu when intercepted.

He said the motorboat was towed to the Romulo Espaldon Naval Station that houses the NFWM headquarters in Zamboanga City, while the crew were subjected to medical check-up at Camp Navarro General Hospital and found to be in good physical condition.

He said no illegal drugs were found mixed with the contraband when the K9 unit of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency inspected the confiscated smuggled cigarettes.

The arrested crew, motorboat and confiscated cargo were turned over to the BOC for proper disposition. (SunStar Zamboanga)