Two former crew members of the MSC Gayane have been sentenced to prison for their roles in a plot to smuggle an estimated $1 billion worth of cocaine through the port of Philadelphia, the Department of Justice announced this week.
The two former crew members, Ivan Durasevic and Nenad Ilic, both of Montenegro, were sentenced by a United States District Court judge in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on charges of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine on a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.
Durasevic, who worked second officer on MSC Gayane, was sentenced to six and a half years in prison and two years of supervised release. Ilic, an engineer cadet, was sentenced to seven years in prison followed by two years of supervised release.
Law enforcement agents boarded the MSC Gayane when it arrived at Packer Marine Terminal in Philadelphia on June 17, 2019, and seized about 20 tons of cocaine worth over $1 billion found in shipping containers. It was one of the largest drug seizures in U.S. history and the largest in the history of the Customs and Border Protection.
According to the Justice Department, Durasevic and Ilic conspired with others to engage in the smuggling of the drugs. On multiple occasions during the MSC Gayane’s voyage and while at sea, crew members helped load bulk packages of cocaine onto the the vessel from speedboats in the middle of the night. Crew members bent railings, pulled open shipping container doors, and used the vessel’s crane to hoist cargo nets full of cocaine onto the vessel, that they then stashed in shipping containers. After hiding the drugs among legitimate cargo, crew members used fake seals to reseal the containers.
The Justice Department reported that Durasevic and Ilic used mobile “narco” phones to coordinate the cocaine smuggling with others on land and recruited other crew members while at sea to assist in the scheme.
Five other crew members from the MSC Gayane involved in the smuggling were arrested, have pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and have now been sentenced. These crew members include Bosko Markovic, of Montenegro, the ship’s chief officer; Vladimir Penda, of Montenegro, the fourth engineer; Stefan Bojevic, of Serbia, the assistant reeferman; Fonofaavae Tiasaga, of Samoa, an able seaman; and Laauli Pulu, of Samoa, an ordinary seaman.
A sixth crew member, Aleksandar Kavaja, of Montenegro, the electrician, pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.
“As the sentences for the illegal conduct in this case continue to happen, they serve as a reminder that drug smuggling operations will be uncovered one way or another,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Williams. “Prosecutors in our Office have been working non-stop to pursue justice since the MSC Gayane docked in the port of Philadelphia over two years ago, and we will not stop until the case is closed.”