Four South African women who were employed as crew by MSC Cruises have been arrested on charges of smuggling cocaine to Miami, Florida, reports the Miami Herald.
US Customs and Border Protection were said to have found six crew members with 7kg of cocaine in their possession or in their cabins during a drug-sweep of MSC Seaside on November 17th.
Another MSC employee was reported arrested on charges of hiring the crew members for a smuggling operation. Federal prosecutors alleged that , Damion Hawthorne, 32, recruited Londiwe Shange, 27, Wandile Mhlongo, 29, and Thembeka Sokhulu, 36, all from Durban, and Viwe Tshaka, 23, from Lusikisiki in the Eastern Cape, to pick up drugs when MSC Seaside docked in Jamaica, and subsequently to deliver them to an unnamed person or persons in Miami. Shange, Mhlongo and Sokhulu reportedly told investigators they had each earned around $2,000 per drug run made over the past few months. Tshaka reportedly said it was her first run.
If found guilty, they face a sentence of between 10 years and life imprisonment.
US Customs and Border Protection officers also reportedly found just under 1kg of cocaine in each of the backpacks of Errol Roy Sutherland, 39, and Carl Michael Smith, 27, it was reported. Sutherland reportedly told officers a childhood friend from Jamaica had given him the backpack in September to deliver to someone in Miami. Smith reportedly said he had been making drug runs for about four months. All the suspects are being held in custody, with bail set at $250 000, after appearing in the Miami Federal Court on December 3rd and pleading not guilty.
MSC Cruises spokesperson Alyssa Goldfarb said that all crew were searched when embarking and disembarking from the ship in Miami. MSC also hired a private security company that used dogs to search for contraband while the ship was in the port, she said.