June 19, 2019– Mary Greeley News – Federal officials seized approximately 16.5 tons of cocaine from a ship docked at Packer Marine Terminal in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
The drug is estimated to be valued at more than $ 1 billion on the street, according to a statement from the United States Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
According to an official statement, this would be the largest drug seizure in the history of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
In a message posted on Twitter, the US Attorney’s Office noted that members of the ship’s crew had been arrested and charged by the federal government and noted that the investigation is still ongoing.
According to the local subsidiary of ABC News, citing a federal official, the ship, MSC Gayane, was on its way from Chile to Europe when they found the stash of drugs at a stop in Philadelphia.
The drugs were hidden in seven shipping containers on board the ship, according to a report by the news network.
The report indicates that the cocaine was removed from the ship and taken to an undisclosed federal center.
The drug seizure is the latest in a series of large cocaine busts along the East Coast. In a March bust in Philadelphia, drug dogs sniffed out 1,185 pounds (538 kg) of cocaine worth about $38 million — at that time the city’s largest seizure of the drug in more than two decades.
In February, customs agents seized 3,200 pounds (1,451 kg) at the Port of New York and New Jersey with a street value estimated at $77 million. That was the largest cocaine bust at the ports since 1994.
Television footage of the seized ship in Philadelphia showed its name as MSC Gayane. Online ship trackers said it sails under the flag of Liberia and arrived in Philadelphia after 5 a.m. Monday.
Two members of the ship’s crew, including its second mate, were charged with violations of federal maritime drug trafficking laws. According to court filings, both men confessed to helping haul dozens of bales of cocaine aboard from at least 14 smaller boats that approached the vessel while plying waters to and from Peru.
This is one of the largest drug seizures in United States history. This amount of cocaine could kill millions – MILLIONS – of people. My Office is committed to keeping our borders secure and streets safe from deadly narcotics. https://t.co/nWPfgpGqYa
— US Attorney William M. McSwain (@USAttyMcSwain) June 18, 2019
The investigation appeared to be far from over. Investigators from at least six city, state, and federal agencies — including U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Homeland Security Investigations — continued to scour the ship Tuesday night, while authorities said others could be charged in the coming days.
A port employee who was not authorized to discuss the matter said investigators boarded the ship with drug-sniffing dogs sometime before 7 p.m. Monday and eventually discovered the cocaine, hidden in bags and housed among legitimate cargo in seven shipping containers bound for the U.S. and Europe.
Coast Guard officials swabbed members of the crew for cocaine residue and found it on the hands and arms of the second mate, Ivan Durasevic, according to his arrest affidavit.
Durasevic told investigators that he had been recruited by the ship’s chief officer, who was unnamed in the document, to help at least two other crew members and four people wearing ski masks haul bales of cocaine aboard the Gayane from smaller ships that approached it shortly after it left Peru. He was paid $50,000 for his effort, he said.
The second crew member charged Tuesday, Fonofaavae Tiasaga, blamed Durasevic for recruiting him into the smuggling effort. He told investigators that the second mate had paid him 50,000 euro to clandestinely load cocaine on one of the ship’s previous trips, according to his arrest affidavit.
On the Gayane’s current voyage, Tiasaga said, he was approached by Durasevic as well as the chief mate, an electrician, and an engineer — all of whom independently sought his aid in sneaking separate loads of cocaine aboard.
He described six boats, each carrying cocaine, that rendezvoused at different times with the Gayane under cover of darkness as it voyaged south from Panama to Peru. On the way back north, eight boats approached the cargo ship at night to unload their illicit cargo, the affidavit states.
Durasevic and Tiasaga remained in custody Tuesday night after appearing in federal court in Philadelphia during the afternoon. Detention hearings for both men are scheduled for later this week.
credit: In part with http://www.maritimeherald.com/2019/more-than-16-tons-of-cocaine-seized-on-a-ship-in-philadelphia/