U.S. authorities seized more than 33,000 pounds of cocaine from a MSC ship at Philadelphia Port’s Packer Marine Terminal, in what they described as one of the largest drug busts in American history.
They said the haul could have been worth more than US$1 billion on the street.
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.
It wasn’t clear whether other crew members would face charges.
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 U.S.
This is the second bust of a MSC vessel at the Port of Philadelphia. In March another MSC vessel, the 9,400 teu MSC Desiree, was raided when calling at Philadelphia and a stash of cocaine worth $38m was found onboard.
The MSC Gayane’s owner, MSC Mediterranean Shipping Co., said in a statement that it is “aware of reports of an incident at the Port of Philadelphia in which U.S. authorities made a seizure of illicit cargo”, and “Unfortunately, shipping and logistics companies are from time to time affected by trafficking problems.”
The investigation targeted a developing trend of migrant smuggling involving small boats across the English Channel.