Federal authorities seized an estimated $1 billion worth of cocaine at the Port of Philadelphia on Tuesday, in what is being called one of the largest drug busts in American history. The seizure of more than 16 tons of cocaine from a ship docked at the Packer Marine Terminal was announced via Twitter on Tuesday by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
Federal agents and canine units raided the ship, the MSC Gayane, on Tuesday afternoon and could be seen entering shipping containers on the vessel. Law enforcement officers discovered and seized approximately 33,000 pounds of cocaine on the ship. Members of the ship’s crew have been arrested and federally charged, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.
The ship is owned by the Swiss firm MSC Mediterranean Shipping Co. The MSC Gayane sails under the Liberian flag and arrived at the Port of Philadelphia early Monday morning. The ship had previously visited ports in the Bahamas on June 31, Panama on June 9, Peru on May 24, and Colombia on May 19, according to information from online ship tracking services.
MSC Mediterranean Shipping said in a statement that the company was “aware of reports of an incident at the Port of Philadelphia in which U.S. authorities made a seizure of illicit cargo.”
The privately-held company also said that it “takes this matter very seriously and is grateful to the authorities for identifying any suspected abuse of its service.”
High Seas Shenanigans
Once aboard the ship, reports ABC News, law enforcement agents swabbed the arms and hands of the ship’s second mate Ivan Durasevidc and discovered traces of cocaine. Durasevidc then allegedly admitted that after the ship left Peru he had helped the MSC Gayane’s chief officer and other men, some of whom were wearing ski masks, transfer packages of cocaine from cargo nets into shipping containers. The chief officer had promised to pay Durasevidc $50,000, according to a criminal complaint.
Another crew member, Fonofaavae Tiasaga, told investigators that he had helped unload bales of cocaine from small boats that approached the ship both before and after it docked in Peru. Six boats delivered cocaine and seals to reseal shipping containers to the MSC Gayane between Chile and Panama.
Another eight boats brought bales of cocaine during the leg of the voyage between Peru and Panama, Tiasaga allegedly told authorities. He also said that Durasevidc had operated the ship’s crane to hoist the cocaine aboard the ship. Members of the crew then hid the cocaine in shipping containers, which were subsequently resealed with the replacements that had been delivered with the cocaine.
Tuesday’s seizure follows other recent high-profile drug busts in the Northeast. In March, authorities confiscated 614 pounds of cannabis worth an estimated $2.5 million dollars from a shipping container at the Port of Philadelphia. Also in March at the same port, 1,185 pounds of cocaine was confiscated. And in February, customs agents seized 3,200 pounds of cocaine at the Port of New York and New Jersey.