Six crew members have been arrested on federal charges and face possible life sentences after about 17.5 tons of cocaine were found on the ship in Philadelphia.
Six crew members have been arrested and charged in federal court after approximately 17.5 tons of cocaine worth more than $1 billion was seized Monday from the MSC Gayane containership docked at the Port of Philadelphia’s Packer Marine Terminal, representatives from a variety of agencies said Friday during a press conference in Philadelphia.
Ivan Durasevic, Nenad Ilic, Alexander Kavaja, Bosco Markovic, Laauli Pulu and Fonofaavae Tiasaga all were federally charged with one count of knowingly and intentionally conspiring with each other and with others to possess more than 5 kilograms of cocaine onboard a vessel subject to U.S. jurisdiction and each faces a “possible sentence of life in prison,” said William McSwain, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
The charged crew members are scheduled to return to a Philadelphia federal court Monday afternoon for a hearing to determine if the charges are supported by probable cause and if they should be held in federal custody pending trial, McSwain said.
Customs and Border Protection’s Homeland Security Investigations and U.S. Coast Guard personnel initially boarded the ship Sunday night, said Casey Durst, CBP’s director of field operations for the Baltimore Field Office. She said anomalies were found in several containers and the ship was escorted to its berth in Philadelphia, where federal, state and local authorities continued the investigation Monday morning.
They verified anomalies in seven containers, which were transported to CBP’s central examination station, where between 1,200 and 3,000 bricks were packed in each container, Durst said.
“Today I can report CBP has seized a historic amount of cocaine — in fact, the largest cocaine seizure in our 230-year history,” Durst said. “By the time we completed inspecting those containers, we seized about 15,000 bricks weighing approximately 35,000 pounds”
According to a criminal complaint filed earlier this week in Pennsylvania federal court that has since been removed from the court’s public docket, the ship’s second mate, Durasevic, and crew member Tiasaga told authorities about their roles in loading the ship, which had made calls to Freeport on June 13, Callao, Peru, on May 24 and Bueneventura, Colombia, on May 19.
Tiasaga said he was approached by Durasevic along with the ship’s electrician and second mate asking him if he was willing to help, and they coordinated the individual loads of cocaine. He said the MSC Gayane was approached by a total of 14 smaller boats at night, according to the complaint.
Durasevic, who Tiasaga said operated a crane to bring numerous bales onto the ship, said the drugs were loaded onto the ship after it left Peru and that two or three other crew members, including Tiasaga, helped.
There was no mention of Ilic, Kavaja, Markovic or Pulu’s roles in the incident in either the criminal complaint or the press conference.
The 10,776-TEU MSC Gayane will not be cleared to leave Philadelphia until “CBP completes its inspections, which will take some time,” McSwain said.
“I can tell you that in addition to prosecuting those named individuals and any others involved, our office is considering all available remedies, including possible forfeiture of the ship and any appropriate criminal and civil penalties.”
In a customer advisory released Thursday, Mediterranean Shipping Company said CBP has temporarily suspended the container shipping company’s Customs Trade Partnership (C-TPAT) certification.
C-TPAT was established following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks as a voluntary program between governments and carriers to ensure supply chain security.
MSC said customers should expect “minimal disruption” as a result of the certification suspension, but the carrier is not restricted from doing business in, nor is it suspended from operating, in the U.S.
“For example, there could possibly be additional inspections on certain containers coming from South and Central America to the USA,” it said in the advisory. “There will be no impact on customs clearance for cargo, which is flowing regularly in and out of the USA.”
The company said it will continue to comply with the C-TPAT requirements and is “actively seeking to assure the authorities that our certification can be reinstated as soon as possible.”