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Cocaine haul from ship grows to 35K pounds with 6 arrests

PHILADELPHIA — Federal authorities have upped the amount of cocaine they seized from a ship at the Philadelphia port to more than 35,000 pounds, or 15,876 kilograms, making it the largest cocaine haul in the history of U.S. Customs, authorities said Friday.

They put the street value of the drugs at $1.1 billion. Laid end to end, the bricks of cocaine would stretch about 2 ½ miles, or just over 3 kilometers, said Casey Durst, director of field operations in the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Baltimore field office.

The investigation has now resulted in the arrests of six crew members, all of whom are due for federal court hearings Monday. They have all been charged with conspiracy to possess cocaine aboard a ship, and each has been appointed a federal public defender.

“You thought you could breeze to our port and leave with enough cocaine to destroy millions of lives without getting caught. You thought you were clever. You were wrong,” said U.S. Attorney William McSwain, whose office is handling the prosecutions. “You underestimated the city, you underestimated our law enforcement capabilities, and you underestimated our commitment to decimate the evil and immoral drug trade.”

Agents on Friday were still inspecting containers aboard the MSC Gayane, a cargo ship owned by Swiss firm MSC Mediterranean Shipping Co. which was sailing under a Liberian flag. MSC is a Swiss-based shipping company, one of the world’s largest shipping lines in terms of containers, McSwain said. A message seeking comment from the shipping line on the latest charges wasn’t returned Friday.

McSwain said his office is considering all available options, including the possible forfeiture of the ship.

Authorities boarded the ship Sunday night for a routine screening, and detected anomalies while examining seven shipping containers on board, they said. Agents escorted the ship into its berth in Philadelphia and a full investigation began on Monday, leading to the discovery of the cocaine.

Under heavy security, federal agents displayed thousands of pounds of seized cocaine during a Friday briefing at Philadelphia’s Custom House. Cardboard boxes were stacked higher than the agents guarding them, and piles of green and blue wrapped bricks were stacked in pyramids in the building’s foyer.

James Carroll, director of the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy, said the Trump administration is committed to hunting down drug traffickers and bringing them to justice.

“Make no mistake, we will use every resource at our disposal to find these traffickers and once we have them in custody we will employ the fullest measure of the law possible,” he said. “We also must never forget to help our fellow citizens who are struggling with addiction and need help.”

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