U.S. Customs and Border Protection has seized the MSC Gayane following last month’s record seizure of 20 tons of cocaine hidden in containers on board the vessel at the Port of Philadelphia.
The CBP said Monday that the vessel was seized July 4 after CBP agents executed a seizure warrant issued by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
The seizure follows last month’s record drug bust at the Packer Marine Terminal in Philadelphia which netted 39,525 pounds of cocaine worth a street value of about $1.3 billion, making it the largest cocaine seizure in the 230-year history of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Several crew members have been arrested in connection to the drugs, which were allegedly loaded during from small boats at sea.
“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.”
Prior to arriving in Philadelphia on June 16, the MSC Gayane made port calls in Chile, Peru, Panama and the Bahamas. The ship’s final destination was ultimately northern Europe, with calls scheduled at Rotterdam, Antwerp and Le Havre.
MSC Mediterranean Shipping Company has said it is cooperating with U.S. authorities in the investigation into the incident. In an update to customers with cargo on board the vessel, the company said all cargoes on board the vessel that have cleared by authorities have now been transshipped to other MSC vessels and sent on to their destinations.
“MSC regrets this delay and thanks you for your patience. Please understand however that we must follow the instructions of the authorities when such serious abuses of our services are being investigated, whether in relation to the vessel or its cargo,” the update said.
The Liberian-flagged MSC Gayane operates on MSC’s NWC-USA-SAWC service.
“Drug trafficking is a serious issue which impacts the entire shipping and logistics sector. MSC remains grateful to the government officials in the U.S. for their proactive work and has offered its continued support, building on a longstanding track record of good cooperation with the authorities,” MSC’s update added.