US authorities seize 16.5 tonnes of cocaine worth $1bn

Authorities in Philadelphia arrest two in one of the largest drug busts in US history, Justice Department says.

    'This amount of cocaine could kill millions,' US attorney says [Dominick Reuter/AFP]
    'This amount of cocaine could kill millions,' US attorney says [Dominick Reuter/AFP]

    American authorities seized 16.5 tonnes of cocaine worth more than $1bn from a ship in Philadelphia in one of the largest drug seizures in US history, the US Justice Department said on Tuesday.

    Federal, state and local law enforcement agents on Monday boarded the MSC Gayane, a cargo ship docked in Philadelphia's Packer Marine Terminal, and found cocaine in seven shipping containers, according to a criminal complaint filed in Philadelphia federal court.

    Federal authorities arrested and charged two members of the ship's crew, Ivan Durasevic and Fonofaavae Tiasaga. Both men told investigators how they helped load the ship with cocaine during its voyage, the complaint said.

    "This amount of cocaine could kill millions - MILLIONS - of people," US Attorney William McSwain said on Twitter, announcing the seizure. His office estimated the value of the cocaine seized at more than $1bn.

    The ship was in Chile, Peru and Colombia and Panama over the last month, according to Reuters vessel tracking data.

    The cargo ship owner, Mediterranean Shipping Company, said in a statement it was aware of the incident and it has a history of working with US law enforcement agencies to help disrupt illegal narcotics trafficking.

    The seizure ranks among some of the largest in US history, including a bust of 21 tonnes of cocaine in California in 1989 and 14 tonnes of cocaine confiscated in Texas during the same year.

    Cocaine remains one of the most widely used illegal drugs in the United States, where most of the world’s cocaine is consumed.

    "There are troubling early signs that cocaine use and availability is on the rise in the United States for the first time in nearly a decade," the US State Department said in a global narcotics trade report in 2017.

    SOURCE: Reuters news agency