Two former crew members of the MSC Gayane have been sentenced to prison for their role in a plot to smuggle cocaine worth an estimated $1 billion through the port of Philadelphia, the Department of Justice announced this week.
The two former crewmen, Ivan Durasevic and Nenad Ilic, both from Montenegro, were sentenced by a U.S. 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 U.S. jurisdiction.
Durasevic, who worked as a second mate on MSC Gayane, was sentenced to six and a half years in prison and two years of supervised release. Ilic, a cadet engineer, was sentenced to seven years in prison followed by two years of supervised release.
Law enforcement officers 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 more than $1 billion found in shipping containers. It was one of the largest drug seizures in U.S. history and the largest in Customs and Border Protection history.
According to the Department of Justice, Durasevic and Ilic conspired with others to engage in drug smuggling. On multiple occasions during the MSC Gayane’s voyage and while at sea, crew members helped load bulk packages of cocaine onto the ship from speedboats in the middle of the night. The crew members bent the railings, opened the doors of the shipping containers and used the ship’s crane to hoist cargo nets full of cocaine onto the ship, which they then hid in the shipping containers. After hiding the drugs among the legitimate cargo, the crew members used fake seals to reseal the containers.
The Justice Department reported that Durasevic and Ilic used “narco” cell phones to coordinate the cocaine smuggling with others ashore and recruited other crew members while at sea to assist in the scheme.
Five other MSC Gayane crew members involved in the smuggling were arrested, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and have now been convicted. These crew members include Bosko Markovic, from Montenegro, the ship’s chief officer; Vladimir Penda, from Montenegro, fourth engineer; Stefan Bojevic, from Serbia, assistant reeferman; Fonofaavae Tiasaga, from Samoa, good seaman; and Laauli Pulu, from Samoa, an ordinary seaman.
A sixth crew member, Aleksandar Kavaja, from Montenegro, the electrician, pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.
“As the sentences for the illegal conduct in this case continue to be carried out, 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 tirelessly to seek justice since the MSC Gayane docked in Philadelphia harbor more than two years ago, and we will not stop until the case is closed.”