US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) seized container ship MSC Gayane (IMO 9770763) on July 4th “as being subject to possible forfeiture to the United States” after a massive cocaine shipment was discovered on board at the Port of Philadelphia. The enforcement action was announced on Monday, July 8th.
Several crewmembers of the 9,962 teu vessel had already been charged in connection with the discovery of some 17.5 tonnes of cocaine on board, destination apparently Europe rather than the US. The cocaine was found by US federal agents in seven containers during an inspection of the vessel.
The MSC Gayane is the largest vessel that CBP has ever seized. Casey Durst, CBP’s Director of Field Operations in Baltimore, said that “this action serves as a reminder for all shipping lines and vessel masters of their responsibilities under US and international law to implement and enforce stringent security measures to prevent smuggling attempts such as this”.
Six members of the Gayane’s crew – Bosco Markovic, Alekandar Kavaja, Nenad Ilic, Laauli Pulu, Fonofaavae Tiasaga and Ivan Durasevic – have been charged in connection with the smuggling scheme. Tiasaga told prosecutors that the container ship’s crew brought the cocaine aboard in high-seas transfers involving 14 separate boats during a transit between Peru and Panama.
Ocean carrier MSC has had its preferential American customs inspection status temporarily suspended after the find. Although the move could mean more inspections for containers arriving from Central and South America, the carrier said that it did not expect any significant disruption to its operations due to the suspension.
MSC has not been accused of wrongdoing, and the company said in June that it was working with American authorities to fight trafficking. The case is being investigated by CBP, Homeland Security Investigations and an several other federal, state and local agencies. 2018-built, Liberia-flagged, 102,492 gt MSC Gayane is owned by Meridian 7 Ltd care of MSC of Geneva, Switzerland. ISM manager is MSC SRL of Piano di Sorrento NA, Italy. It is entered with UK Club (area group London L3) on behalf of Conglomerate Maritime Ltd !