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U.S. Releases Container Ship Found With 20 Tons of Cocaine

U.S. authorities have released a container ship that was seized with 20 tons of cocaine in Philadelphia after the operator posted a $50 million bond, including $10 million in cash, but said they still plan to consider seeking forfeiture of the vessel.

The release of the MSC Gayane, owned by J.P. Morgan Asset Management and chartered to Mediterranean Shipping Co., means the ship can resume commercial operations after being held at the Port of Philadelphia for nearly a month.

“My office secured $10 million in cash and a $40 million surety bond from the owner and operator of the vessel in exchange for its temporary release pending a final resolution in this case,” U.S. Attorney William McSwain wrote in a post on Twitter.

The ship, which is worth around $90 million, is still subject to possible forfeiture if the probe links senior crew members with the cocaine haul, people with knowledge of the matter said.

The Gayane was raided on June 17 by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents, who found cocaine that authorities said had a street value of $1.3 billion stuffed in several containers. The ship was formally seized on July 9. Eight crew members have been charged in connection with the raid and remain in custody.

“MSC has arranged the payments, and the ship, plus 16 crew that had not been charged, were let go,” a person involved in the matter said. “The federal government is still building a forfeiture case, but the $50 million was deemed enough to let the Gayane go for now.”

The ship departed the Philadelphia port Saturday and was on its way to Rotterdam for a return to commercial service. A spokesman for MSC said the company continues to cooperate with U.S. authorities.

The ship was making its only stop in the U.S. at the time of the raid after starting its journey in Chile and stopping in Peru, Panama and the Bahamas on its way to Europe.

The Gayane was the second MSC ship raided in Philadelphia this year for drug movement. In March, federal agents discovered nearly 1,200 pounds of cocaine onboard the MSC Desiree, a similar-size vessel to the Gayane

Customs agents also seized 1.6 tons of cocaine on another MSC vessel, the MSC Carlotta, as it entered the Port of Newark, N.J., in February, authorities said.

Global maritime regulation doesn’t require ocean carriers to check the contents of all containers they move as this would lead to long delays across supply chains.
Source: Wall Street Journal

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