CREW members on a ship arrested with a whopping 20 tons of cocaine destined for European drug gangs including the Kinahan cartel have been detained in the United States.
he huge cargo ship MSC Gayane was destined for the Netherlands before it was searched by officials in Philadelphia, where it docked in July 2019.
The $ 1.5 billion cocaine is the largest in US Customs and Border Protection history, and this year resulted in a 70 percent increase in cocaine backups in the country.
In the past few weeks, details of the highly complex smuggling operation became known as crew members involved in the operation were sentenced for their roles.
At the time of the 2019 bust, Deputy Garda Commissioner John O’Driscoll told Sunday World that they were in contact with US authorities about the seizure.
The huge load of cocaine had been funded by European criminal gangs who had worked together to get the drugs across the Atlantic.
The deputy commander of the ship Bosko Markovic was a key figure after coming on board with three co-conspirators and recruiting four more from the 22-man crew.
The Montenegrin had worked for the shipping company since 2008 and rose in the management chain to Chief Mate.
According to the US Department of Justice, he had been promised a million dollars for his services to bring the cocaine stones on board and hide them while at sea.
Using an encrypted phone to contact conspirators ashore, 20 speedboats delivered the drugs to MSC Gayane off the coast of Peru, which was traveling from Chile to Philadelphia via the Panama Canal.
The other gang members on board helped unload the illegal cargo, which they hid in seven containers selected by Markovic and then sealed with forged seals.
The legitimate cargo in the containers included wine, paper and nuts and was destined for a number of countries including Ireland.
After their arrest in Philadelphia, all eight crew members involved in the conspiracy pleaded guilty.
Markovic received a seven-year prison sentence last week, the longest in the case.
Vladimir Penda, the ship’s fourth engineer, was sentenced on April 13 to five years and ten months.
Penda was one of the crew members recruited on board and helped move the medicines from the crane to the containers.
“Follow-up investigations uncovered nightly, clandestine drug trafficking that reads like a movie story, and prosecutors in our office have been working non-stop to bring justice to this case ever since,” Acting US Attorney Jennifer Arbittier told Williams during the hearing for Penda.
“The many successful prosecutions following the record-breaking cocaine seizure by CBP in June 2019 should remind those willing to help drug trafficking organizations that narcotics smuggling has very grave consequences,” a customs spokesman said in a statement.
The two Samoan crew members who were recruited on board and helped transport the cocaine were convicted in front of Penda.
Laauli Pula, ordinary seaman, and Fonofaavae Tiasaga, able seaman, were both sentenced to five years in prison at a hearing on January 19.
Another crew member, the Serbian Stefan Bojevic, was sentenced to five years in prison on March 2.
Three other crew members are due to be sentenced later this year.
The Drugs Enforcement Agency announced that nationwide cocaine seizures in 2019 increased 70% compared to 2018, from 26,585 kg to 45,241 kg as a result of the seizure.
“The increase is mainly due to the record seizure of 17,928 kilograms from freight containers on the MSC Gayane in Philadelphia for Antwerp, Belgium.”
The DEA previously prepared a dossier on the European gangs that are cooperating to organize oversized cocaine shipments to Europe.
This included many of Daniel Kinahan’s wedding guests like Dutch criminal Ridouan Taghi currently on trial and recently convicted Ricardo Riquelme Vega aka El Rico.
Wedding guests, the Italian Camorra boss Raffaele Imperiale and Edin Gacanin, a high-ranking member of the Montenegrin Tito and Dino cartel, were also named by the DEA as part of the same conglomerate.
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