- Fresh details about how smugglers loaded nearly 20 tons of cocaine worth an estimated $1 billion onto a ship owned by JPMorgan, and how US authorities discovered the drugs, have emerged.
- More than 10 boats twice pulled up alongside the MSC Gayane while it was sailing past South America.
- Crew members used the ship’s crane to hoist the drugs onboard, and relied on replacement seals to conceal their tampering with shipping containers.
- It took US officials about a week to weigh and catalog the 39,525 pounds of cocaine seized.
- Here are four surprising facts about the bust, and here’s what five experts told us about the incident.
- View Markets Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Fresh details about how smugglers loaded nearly 20 tons of cocaine worth an estimated $1 billion onto a ship owned by JPMorgan, and how US authorities discovered the drugs, have emerged.
The MSC Gayane departed Chile on May 30 and passed through Peru, Panama, the Bahamas, and Delaware en route to Philadelphia, its final stopover before sailing to Europe. More than 10 boats twice pulled up alongside the container ship while it was sailing past South America, according to the Wall Street Journal, which interviewed people familiar with the investigation and reviewed parts of an affidavit provided by a federal agent.
Under the cover of darkness, crew members used the ship’s crane to bring onboard bales of cocaine wrapped in netting. The bundles contained replacement seals, which they used to reseal shipping containers after packing them with drugs, the Journal said.
After two drug busts this year on MSC-owned boats that traveled similar routes, US authorities were on high alert. Shortly after the MSC Gayane set sail for the Port of Philadelphia on June 16, a dozen armed US Customs and Border Patrol and other federal agents intercepted the ship. They used a rope ladder to climb on board, then checked the containers’ seals and found several that looked suspicious, according to the Journal.
The officials X-rayed then pried open seven containers to discover a total of 39,525 pounds of cocaine. It took them about a week to weigh and catalog the packages, the Journal said.
US authorities have charged and are holding eight crew members, two of whom were promised $50,000 each for their help. They released another 16 including the captain.
The MSC Gayane’s operator, Mediterranean Shipping Co., paid nearly $50 million in cash and bond to secure its release and return it to commercial service. MSC, which leased the boat from JPMorgan’s asset management arm, said it would post security guards on high-risk routes, install closed-circuit cameras, and introduce cabin checks for illicit container seals and other contraband, according to the Journal.
However, US authorities plan to seek permanent forfeiture of the $90 million MSC Gayane, and could reclaim it within three months if a court backs their case, the Journal said.