Many readers may have heard of the opioid epidemic surging through the United States but that’s not the only drug problem that the country is currently facing. Every day, millions of pounds of cocaine, now considered a more tame drug, comparatively, makes its way into the country; sometimes by even legitimate means.
It’s something that the DEA, FBI, and hundreds of local law enforcement agencies are doing their level best to stop, but one that has only seemed to gain steam during America’s war against heroin. Thankfully, every so often, law enforcement strikes a powerful blow against the drug business…
It was boring when the MSC Gayane came into port at the Packer Avenue Marine Terminal Port in South Philadelphia. The port lies on the Delaware River and is a way station for many shipping vessels. This one was on its way to Ireland, South Africa, India, and other ports of call. It had just stopped to unload some goods.
Ports of Call
The 1,030-foot Liberian-flagged vessel seemed pretty nondescript from the outside. Their manifest indicated that they had come from Chile and were headed, ultimately, for Europe, France, and the Netherlands to be precise, despite all the stops on the way. Yet, authorities noticed some anomalies upon the vessel when they began an impromptu inspection…
Search the Ship
These “anomalies” as the police investigators called then, had something to do with the hundreds of large shipping crates aboard the vessel. The trouble was, inspecting the lot of them, stacked as they were, was going to pull a good deal of manpower. As it turned out, all that effort was indeed worth something.
Odds and Ends
The immense shipping containers aboard the vessel were filled with all manner of things from its path around the world. They had wine, paperboard, vegetable extracts, spices, and dried nuts every corner of the globe. They also had something else, something that the Philadelphia police had a vested interest in…
What these officials uncovered was a whopping 17.5 tons of cocaine. That included an impressive 15,582 bricks weighing more than 35,000 pounds. For those who don’t know, cocaine is a powdered derisive of the coca plant. It is a strong stimulant that can be exceptionally addictive, making it a perfect gateway drug.
Cocaine’s resurgence in this country in recent years has been linked with an overabundance of cocaine supply in its native Columbia. This explained why there was so much aboard the MSC Gayane. So much, in fact, that if all the bricks were lined up in a row, they would stretch over two miles in length. We don’t have to tell you that this is a lot of cocaine…
James W. Carroll Jr., director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, spoke about the bust after it went public. ”There were doses enough for two million different individuals…” He added that if it had been distributed as it had been intended, it could have killed thousands, maybe millions over the next few years.
Many, including U.S. Customs and Border Protection director, Casey Durst have admitted that the officers who uncovered the drugs may have seriously impacted the drug trade of any number of criminal organizations. He wasn’t even talking just about nationally affiliated groups, but a transnational organization. As to who was behind the drugs, that require further investigation…
The investigation identified the Gayane’s second mate, a man named Ivan Durasevic, as the person who allegedly brought all of the cocaine on board. He even freely admitted this after the shipment was found. Regardless of this affirmation, however, the team knew some other conspiracy was at work here.
Durasevic was questioned further and admitted that he’d received $50,000 for his role in the conspiracy. He also fingered another crew member named Fonofaavae Tiasaga, who he had enlisted to help load the cocaine. Tiasaga had also helped Durasevic do this on a previous voyage. So why were these men falling on their swords all of a sudden?
Customs and Border Protection didn’t really know who they were dealing with. Despite the many years since the death of drug kingpin Pablo Escobar, there are still plenty of international drug smuggling criminal organizations operating out there in the world today. Narrowing it down wasn’t going to be easy.
Along the Way
They began investigating the path that the Gayane had taken whilst out at sea. Records indicated that it stopped at least twice between stops in Chile and Panama. Each time it stopped, numerous boats would approach it to hand off what was eventually discovered to be, large bundles of cocaine. It must have taken a while to load all 17.5 tons, however…
All told, the investigation team ended up arresting six crew members, though only Durasevic and Tiasaga have been officially identified. None of the men arrested were American citizens, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t guilty of violating federal narcotic smuggling laws and each one faces life in prison.
This particular bust is so important not only because of the impact it will have on the drug trade in this part of the world, but because it is the 2nd massive coke bust in Philadelphia in the last year. It would seem that a number of drug lords in the area may wish to cross Philadelphia off their shipping list. But if they do, they are going to have to cross New York off as well…
The last seizure recovered more than $18 million in drugs while this latest one is historic because it is the largest in the history of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. New York, on the other hand, managed to seize $77 million worth of drugs in a cargo ship that came into port between New York and New Jersey earlier this year.
Unlike the Gayane, which had its drugs mixed in amidst wine and spices, the New York bust found their drugs mixed in with boxes of fruit. They also didn’t just find cocaine, they discovered cocaine mixed with fentanyl; a deadly cocktail that is said to be 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine…
These new synthetic opioids tend to be the most dangerous drugs on the market today and are responsible for thousands of overdose deaths a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Drugs have been a problem in the United States for the better part of the last hundred years or so; ever since the first opium den opened its doors to the desperate and downtrodden.
Taking it Seriously
More recent epochs have seen a rise in recreational drug usage, as opposed to those who sought out drugs as a means to end some sort of physical or mental suffering. Whatever these drugs are used for, though, their presence in the United States in these absurd amounts means that people in the Justice and Customs Departments are taking the current situation very seriously…
The owners of the shipping company, meanwhile, are doing their level best to worm their way out of responsibility for the drugs aboard their vessels. For their part, though they have vowed to work with both customs and border authorities to continue to police their own people for future shipments.
Officials with Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement are currently working with agencies like the Department of Homeland Security, as well as the Drug Enforcement Administration to suss out who is ultimately responsible for these drugs reaching our shores. The truth may be years away, but they are still fighting the good fight.