Customs seizes massive container ship loaded with $1.3 billion in cocaine

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U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized the massive MSC Gayane container shipon July 4, following a record seizure of 20 tons of cocaine in mid-June.

Upon application from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania issued a seizure warrant for the vessel, which was docked in Philadelphia.

CPB executed the warrant and seized the MSC Gayane under various seizure and forfeiture authorities.

“The MSC Gayane is the largest vessel seized in U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s 230-year history and follows the record seizure of almost 20-tons of cocaine discovered on the vessel,” said Casey Durst, CBP’s director of Field Operations in Baltimore.“Seizing a vessel of this size is an unusual enforcement action for CBP, but is indicative of the serious consequences associated with an alleged conspiracy by crewmembers and others to smuggle a record load of dangerous drugs through the United States. This action serves as a reminder for all shipping lines and vessel masters of their responsibilities under U.S. and international law to implement and enforce stringent security measures to prevent smuggling attempts such as this.”

“A seizure of a vessel this massive is complicated and unprecedented – but it is appropriate because the circumstances here are also unprecedented. We found nearly 20 tons of cocaine hidden on this ship,” said Eastern Pennsylvania U.S. Attorney McSwain. “When a vessel brings such an outrageous amount of deadly drugs into Philadelphia waters, my Office and our agency partners will pursue the most severe consequences possible against all involved parties in order to protect our district – and our country.”

On June 17, the CBP and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) led multi-agency team detected anomalies in seven shipping containers and extracted 39,525 pounds of cocaine. The cocaine has a street value of about $1.3 billion.

Cocaine seizures from ships are not rare. About 200 pounds of cocaine was found in a shipment of pineapples at the Port of Wilmington. While dwarfed by the Philadelphia seizure, the shipment had a potential street value of $18 million based on a figure from a previous seizure in the New Orleans area.

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