Two people were arrested by federal authorities after more than $1 billion worth of cocaine was found Monday in containers aboard the MSC Gayane.
Federal authorities on Monday seized approximately 16.5 tons of cocaine worth more than $1 billion from the MSC Gayane containership docked at the Port of Philadelphia’s Packer Marine Terminal.
The agents and officers from federal, state and local authorities located the 33,000 pounds of cocaine in seven separate shipping containers on the cargo ship, which arrived in Philadelphia Monday morning, according to a criminal complaint filed in Pennsylvania federal court.
“Authorities continue to process the seized cocaine and continue its inspection aboard the vessel in the Port of Philadelphia,” a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol spokesperson said in a statement. “Authorities have made two arrests and will release a final tally and additional details when this operation concludes.”
Federal authorities arrested the ship’s second mate, Ivan Durasevic, who allegedly had the presence of cocaine located on his arms and hands during a swab analysis, and crew member Fonofaavae Tiasaga, according to the criminal complaint. The complaint said they told investigators about their roles in loading the ship on its voyage, which included calls to Freeport on June 13, Callao, Peru, on May 24 and Bueneventura, Colombia, on May 19, according to VesselFinder.com.
Durasevic said the drugs were loaded onto the ship after it left Peru and that two or three other crew members, including Tiasaga, assisted in loading the cocaine. He said he was paid about $50,000 by the chief officer for his part, according to the criminal complaint.
Tiasaga, who said he had helped Durasevic load cocaine onto the vessel on a previous voyage, said the second mate, electrician and chief mate approached him again and asked if he was willing to help, and they coordinated the individual loads of cocaine, the complaint said. He said the ship was approached by six vessels as it passed between Panama and Coronel, and Durasevic operated the crane to bring on numerous bales of cocaine wrapped in netting. The MSC Gayane was later approached by eight ships as it passed northbound between Coronel, Peru and Panama, Tiasaga said per the criminal complaint.
“All of the drugs, including what had previously been loaded onto the vessel, were taken below deck and concealed within containers,” the criminal complaint reads. “Tiasaga stated that his role was to assist in moving the cocaine to the below-deck containers.”
Shipowner Mediterranean Shipping Company said in a statement it “takes this matter very seriously” and that it is working with authorities and industry groups worldwide “to improve the security of the international supply chain and ensure that illegal practices are dealt with promptly and thoroughly by the relevant authorities.”
U.S. Attorney William McSwain tweeted Tuesday that Monday’s seizure was one of the largest in American 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,” he tweeted.