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July 08, 2019

Customs officials seize vessel used in record-breaking Philly cocaine bust

Investigations Drug Bust
MSC Gayane Source/U.S. Customs & Border Protection

Authorities found $1.3 billion of cocaine onboard the MSC Gayane when it docked at the Port of Philadelphia on June 17, 2019. The ship has been seized by the U.S. government as part of an ongoing international investigation. Six crew members from the ship face drug smuggling charges.

U.S. Customs officials at the Port of Philadelphia have taken the uncommon measure of seizing the cargo ship that was found last month carrying nearly 20 tons of cocaine, authorities said Monday.

An inspection of the MSC Gayane on June 17 resulted in the discovery of 39,525 pounds of cocaine stored in seven shipping containers. The drugs were given an estimated street value of $1.3 billion.

On July 4, Customs & Border Protection officials executed a search warrant of the ship that led to its seizure under the direction of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

“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."

U.S. Attorney William McSwain called the seizure of the vessel "unprecedented," but added the action was appropriate given the circumstances of the case.

Six crew members aboard the vessel face conspiracy charges in connection with the smuggled cocaine. Five of them remain in federal custody.

Authorities said MSC Gayane's previous ports of call, prior to reaching Philadelphia, were the Bahamas on June 13, Panama on June 9, Peru on May 24 and Columbia on May 19.

The vessel belongs to the Mediterranean Shipping Company, a Swiss company that boasts the world's second-largest shipping line in terms of vessel container capacity.