Investigators have found more cocaine than initially reported onboard the MSC Gayane with further arrests in one of the largest drugs busts in recent American history.
Four more crew of the 9,962 teu ship have been arrested along with the initial pair as seafarers are grilled about how the illicit drug came onboard the huge ship that was raided on Monday morning when it docked at the Port of Philadelphia. The authorities have now weighed 17.5 tonnes of cocaine, one tonne more than originally reported, taking the street value of the haul to in excess of $1.1bn.
Embarrassingly for MSC, this is the second drugs bust on one of its ships at the same port in the space of just three months.
In the wake of the contraband find, the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has temporarily suspended MSC’s Customs Trade Partnership (C-TPAT) certification, meaning US authorities for the time being do not assess the carrier as ‘low-risk’ so more scrutiny of its shipments can be expected in the coming days and weeks. MSC admitted in a client advisory yesterday clients can expect “minimal disruption” from the C-TPAT decision. C-TPAT a voluntary partnership between governments and carriers to ensure supply chain security.
“MSC will continue to collaborate with authorities worldwide, to ensure our vessels are secure and can deliver our customers’ cargo safely and reliably,” MSC stated yesterday.
According to court documents, second officer Ivan Durasevic allegedly admitted to his role in bringing the cocaine onboard the vessel.
“Upon leaving Peru on this current voyage, he got a call from the Chief Officer to come down to the deck, at which time he saw nets on the port side stern by the ship’s crane,” the complaint said.
“Durasevic and approximately four other individuals, some of whom were wearing ski masks, assisted in the pushing of the nets toward Hold Seven or Eight of the vessel.”
Durasevic said he was paid $50,000 by the chief officer, who has not been identified.
Another crew member, identified as Fonofaavae Tiasaga, also allegedly admitted to partaking in loading cocaine on the ship, including on a previous voyage, the complaint said.
“Prior to departing on the voyage, the ship’s Electrician and the Chief Mate also approached Tiasaga and asked if he was willing to help again,” the complaint states. “According to Tiasaga, each of these four crewmembers coordinated individual loads of cocaine.”
The court documents also allege that at least twice while the ship was en route between stops in Chile and Panama, numerous smaller boats approached the MSC Gayane at sea to hand off large bundles of the illicit drug.
In March another MSC vessel, the 9,400 teu MSC Desiree, was raided when calling at Philadelphia and a stash of cocaine worth $38m was found onboard.