A record cocaine seizure at a Philadelphia terminal weighed thousands of pounds more than initially believed, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said.
The CBP initially said the haul weighed about 16 and a half tons, but the final weight tally is nearly 20 tons or 39,525 pounds, Casey Durst, CBP’s director of field operations in Baltimore, said in statement released June 26. The drugs have an estimated street value of $1.3 billion, he said.
#CBP officers working alongside @ICEgov HSI and local partners seized 333lbs of cocaine from inside a shipping container at the @PortOfBalt. Learn more about this record seizure: https://t.co/Pj6xdeYIaa pic.twitter.com/5ypMckR4OM
— CBP (@CBP) June 26, 2019
Last Monday, authorities found the cocaine in seven shipping containers on the MSC Gayane, a 1,030-foot Liberian-flagged container ship, after it arrived at Packer Marine Terminal, according to a federal complaint filed in US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
CBP officers seized more than 35,000 POUNDS of cocaine worth over $1 BILLION at the Philadelphia Seaport on Monday. @ICEGov HSI agents made 6 arrests and @USAO_EDPA is prosecuting. The investigation is ongoing. Details: https://t.co/FdI7pYWOYe pic.twitter.com/l5q2sakZLZ
— CBP (@CBP) June 22, 2019
The complaint accuses the ship’s second mate and another crew member of intentionally conspiring to possess a controlled substance on board a vessel subject to U.S. jurisdiction.
.@ICEgov and @CBP help keep our country safe day in and day out, and they just played integral roles in the largest drug bust in U.S. history.https://t.co/4iULWa34lf
— House Judiciary GOP (@JudiciaryGOP) June 24, 2019
According to federal investigators, the two confessed to their roles and provided operational details, which were included in an affidavit attached to the complaint.
The seizure is the largest in the CBP’s 230-year history, the agency said.
Agents with dogs swarmed the colossal ship Tuesday afternoon, including one officer who could be seen climbing into the back of a large red container on wheels. Court documents said the bust began Monday.
An affidavit alleged that crew members helped load the cocaine onto the MSC Gayane while it was at sea off the west coast of South America. Citing an interview with one of the crew members, authorities said a total of 14 boats approached the vessel on two separate occasions during its voyage. Several crew members allegedly helped transfer bales of cocaine.
The ship’s second mate, Ivan Durasevic, and another crew member, Fonofaavae Tiasage, were charged with conspiracy to possess cocaine aboard a ship. An online court docket did not list attorneys for the defendants. It wasn’t clear whether other crew members would face charges.
ICE HSI Philadelphia participates in joint press conference announcing the seizure of over 17 tons of cocaine https://t.co/wAPVLdDzvp pic.twitter.com/rF7OYbqYHz
— ICE (@ICEgov) June 25, 2019
The drug seizure is the latest in a series of large cocaine busts along the East Coast. In a March bust in Philadelphia, drug dogs sniffed out 1,185 pounds of cocaine worth about $38 million—at that time the city’s largest seizure of the drug in more than two decades.
In February, customs agents seized 3,200 pounds at the Port of New York and New Jersey with a street value estimated at $77 million. That was the largest cocaine bust at the ports since 1994.
Online ship trackers said the vessel detained in Philadelphia sails under the flag of Liberia and arrived in Philadelphia after 5 a.m. Monday. The ship’s previous ports of call were the Bahamas on June 13, Panama on June 9, Peru on May 24 and Colombia on May 19, records show.
Federal authorities say Colombia is the primary supplier of cocaine to the United States.
The MSC Gayane’s owner, MSC Mediterranean Shipping Co., said in a statement it was “aware of reports of an incident at the Port of Philadelphia in which U.S. authorities made a seizure of illicit cargo.” The privately owned Swiss shipping company said it “takes this matter very seriously and is grateful to the authorities for identifying any suspected abuse of its services.”
The Associated Press and CNN contributed to this report.