Last month, a record-setting cocaine shipment was confiscated in the ports of Philadelphia, and in the weeks since, information has surfaced showing that the ship transporting the drugs was owned by the JP Morgan bank.
In the bust last month, US Customs and Border Patrol agents confiscated nearly 40,000 pounds of cocaine, with an estimated street value of $1.3 billion, making it the largest single cocaine bust in US history.
The illegal cargo was being transported by a ship called the MSC Gayane, which is operated by Mediterranean Shipping Co. and owned by JP Morgan. Last week, Customs officials announced that they would be seizing the ship after it sat in the port for nearly a month after the raid.
Casey Durst, CBP’s Director of Field Operations in Baltimore, says that this was the largest vessel ever to be seized by US customs.
“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. 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,” Durst said in a statement.
U.S. Attorney McSwain said that it was unprecedented for the government to take control of such a large boat with high-profile ownership, but he said that the move was understandable considering the circumstances.
“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. 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,” McSwain said.
Homeland Security investigators said that at least a half dozen crew members from the ship were taken into custody.
The ship reportedly departed from Liberia and then travelled through the Bahamas and numerous other South American countries before arriving in Philadelphia, but investigators are unsure when the cocaine was stashed on the ship.
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Mediterranean Shipping Co. and JP Morgan have both been silent on the issue, and it is unlikely that any evidence will be traced back to the ship’s owners. In most cases where shipping containers are seized, the crew rarely knows about the contraband in the cargo, but they still suffer the brunt of the charges since they are on the only people available for prosecution.
A few years back, a cargo ship connected to Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell was stopped and searched before departing from Colombia. During the search, Colombian Coast Guard agents seized roughly 90 pounds of cocaine. The McConnel family and the shipping agency responsible for the boat each had enough plausible deniability in the case to avoid charges.
IMAGE CREDIT: khunaspix