MSC, a Balkan Gang and the Drug Bust That Changed an Industry

The MSC Gayane "never stopped moving. It didn’t even appear to slow down" as speedboats loaded it with 20 tons of cocaine.

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The MSC Gayane at Philadelphia’s Packer Avenue Marine Terminal port.
Photo: Matt Rourke (AP)

On June 17, 2019, Customs and Border Protection agents discovered about 45,000 pounds of cocaine valued at $1 billion aboard the MSC Gayane in the port of Philadelphia, en route to Rotterdam. It was one of the largest trafficking busts ever, and certainly the largest at sea. And it was a long time coming, as masterminds of the Balkan Cartel honed their schemes for a decade, monitoring Mediterranean Shipping Company and forcibly recruiting its employees. Bloomberg’s Lauren Etter and Michael Riley have published the deepest report into the story yet, and it’s a gripping read.

This was a drug seizure of a magnitude that may have changed the entire industry and forced it to keep a closer watch on its routes. According to Bloomberg, MSC and the U.S. government remain mired in a courtroom battle; the company faces a $700 million fine, and will potentially cough up more in a civil case with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The government maintains the MSC was aware of going on, or at the very least negligent; MSC is pushing a narrative of ignorance, and disputing established facts. It’ll be interesting to watch as this story continues to play out, but without spoiling any more, head over to Bloomberg
and read the whole thing.