U.S. Seizes Ship Owned By JP Morgan Asset Management With 20 Tonnes Of Cocaine Worth $1.3B

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Written by Dana Sanchez
JP Morgan
MSC Gayane container ship on the Delaware River in Philadelphia, June 18, 2019. Customs authorities discovered nearly 40,000 pounds of cocaine when the vessel was inspected. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

In what has been described as the largest cocaine haul in American history, U.S. authorities have seized a container ship near Philadelphia owned by J.P. Morgan Asset Management.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents raided the MSC Gayane on June 17. They found 20 tons of cocaine stashed in several containers with a street value of $1.3 billion.

The MSC Gayane is 1,030 feet long — about the size of three football fields, NPR reported.

The circumstances and seizure surrounding a ship this massive are unprecedented, said William McSwain, the U.S. Attorney for the Philadelphia area, in a statement.

“Historically, ships involved in criminal activity are older and beaten up,” said Basil Karatzas, CEO of New-York-based Karatzas Marine Advisors & Co, in a Wall Street Journal interview. “It is strange that such a modern and expensive vessel is involved in such a blatantly criminal case, like moving 20 tons of cocaine.”

JP Morgan’s ship was built in 2018 and is worth about $90 million, WSJ reported. It has capacity for 10,000 containers.

One of the largest asset and wealth managers in the world, JP Morgan has assets under management of $1.7 trillion as of Dec. 31, 2017.

“Throughout our long and distinguished history, we have been steadfastly committed to putting our clients’ interests first,” the company said on its website.

Eight crew members from Serbia and Samoa have been arrested and several are charged in the case. The ship’s second officer and another crew member were charged with helping bring the cocaine aboard.

The ship will stay in the custody of the court, McSwain said. Authorities did not say whether any action would be taken against the ship’s operator — Switzerland-based Mediterranean Shipping Co. Prosecutors are still collecting evidence, according to the Wall Street Journal.

This is at least the third drug bust involving a ship operated by MSC this year, HuffPost reported.

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In February, about 3,200 pounds of cocaine was found aboard the MSC Carlotta in Newark, New Jersey, the New York Times reported.

In March, authorities found 1,183 pounds of cocaine on the container ship MSC Desiree, which was anchored in Philadelphia while traveling from Colombia to Europe, NBC Philadelphia reported.

MSC’s Customs-Trade Partnership certification has been suspended, meaning its cargo will be subject to more scrutiny and the liner will no longer be regarded as “low risk.”

Ships don’t have to have the contents of all containers checked, according to
global maritime regulations. That would take too long and lead to delays across supply chains.

The MSC Gayane started its journey in Chile and stopped in Peru, Panama and Freeport, Bahamas, before coming to Philadelphia. It was supposed to sail to Europe after the U.S.