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US Customs seizes ship where huge cocaine load was found in Philadelphia

Written by The Associated Press | Jul 8, 2019 1:30 PM
MSC Gayane.jpg

The MSC Gayane is moored at the Packer Marine Terminal in Philadelphia, Monday, June 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

This story has been updated with additional details and background information.

(Philadelphia) -- U.S. Customs authorities have seized a cargo ship where agents discovered nearly 40,000 pounds, or almost 18,000 kilograms, of cocaine when the vessel arrived in Philadelphia last month, U.S. Attorney William McSwain announced Monday.

Customs and Border Protection officials obtained a warrant Thursday and seized the MSC Gayane, owned by Swiss firm Mediterranean Shipping Company, McSwain said.

"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," McSwain said. "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."

The ship is subject to possible forfeiture to the U.S. The value of the ship and its other contents hasn't been released.

MSC is one of the world's largest shipping lines in terms of containers, and has not been accused of any wrongdoing. A spokesman for MSC said the company would have no immediate comment.

At least six crew members have been charged with conspiracy to possess cocaine aboard a ship. The federal investigation continues.

Gayane is at least the third ship in Mediterranean Shipping Company's fleet to have been raided by U.S. authorities this year.

In February, customs agents seized the largest shipment of cocaine intercepted at the port in Newark, New Jersey, in nearly 25 years -- about 3,200 pounds, or 1,451 kilograms -- from a container aboard the MSC Carlotta.

In March, law enforcement agents searched a container offloaded from the MSC Desiree at Philadelphia's port and found 13 large duffel bags stuffed with 1,185 pounds, or 538 kilograms, of cocaine. At the time, it was the largest cocaine seizure at the port in more than 20 years.

Company officials did not reply to questions Monday about drug smuggling aboard the ships. Last month, MSC said in a statement that "unfortunately, shipping and logistics companies are from time to time affected by trafficking problems. ... MSC has a longstanding history of cooperating with U.S. federal law enforcement agencies to help disrupt illegal narcotics trafficking."

philadelphia_port_cocaine_bust.jpg

An officer with a dog inspects a container along the Delaware River in Philadelphia, Tuesday, June 18, 2019. U.S. authorities have seized more than $1 billion worth of cocaine from a ship at a Philadelphia port, calling it one of the largest drug busts in American history. The U.S. attorney's office in Philadelphia announced the massive bust on Twitter on Tuesday afternoon. Officials said agents seized about 16.5 tons (15 metric tons) of cocaine from a large ship at the Packer Marine Terminal. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

An earlier version of this story appears below.

(Philadelphia) -- U.S. Customs authorities have seized a cargo ship where agents discovered nearly 40,000 pounds, or almost 18,000 kilograms, of cocaine when the vessel arrived in Philadelphia last month.

U.S. Attorney William McSwain says Customs and Border Protection officials obtained a warrant Thursday and seized the MSC Gayane.

The cargo ship is owned by Swiss firm MSC Mediterranean Shipping Co.

McSwain says the ship is subject to possible forfeiture to the U.S. The value of the ship and its other contents hasn't been released.

MSC is one of the world's largest shipping lines in terms of containers. An email seeking comment on the ship's seizure wasn't returned Monday.

At least six crew members have been charged with conspiracy to possess cocaine aboard a ship. The federal investigation continues.

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