Italian Billionaire Tied to Ship Seized With 20 Tons Of Cocaine Onboard

By Maggie Ethridge 07/18/19

The cocaine, worth $1.1 billion, was hidden inside dried goods, nuts and scrap metal on the ship.

Ship tied to Italian billionaire seized with cocaine
ID 46000550 © Raghuramaswamy |

A ship operated by Mediterranean Shipping Company and owned by JP Morgan was held for weeks after a bust found 20 tons of cocaine onboard.

While at port before embarking to the Netherlands, the ship was raided and the drugs—worth $1.1 billion—were found, hidden inside dried goods, nuts, and scrap metal.

“The MSC Gayane is the largest vessel seized in U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s 230-year history,” Casey Durst, CBP’s Director of Field Operations in Baltimore, said in a statement, according to Forbes.

Mediterranean Shipping Company

This was the third drug bust of 2019 on a ship operated by Mediterranean Shipping Company. MSC is owned by the billionaire couple, Gianluigi and Rafaela Aponte, who are worth $11.1 billion. The Apontes also control MSC Cruises, the fourth largest cruise ship company in the world.

MSC had been participating in a customs check program created by CBP called Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT). The program gives shipping companies the opportunity to speedily clear border checks in return for strengthening their security measures. MSC is now temporarily suspended from the program.

However, Forbes reported that according to CBP Press Officer Stephen Sapp, it is not the ships or the company that are the problem. 

“It’s not indicative of any specific shipping company, it is specific to the source nations where they’re making port calls,” Sapp told Forbes. “Along that route, there are opportunities for people to seal drugs inside those containers.”

Crew members of the MSC Gayane were arrested and charged with possession. Jakob Larsen, head of security at the international shipping association BIMCO, told Forbes that drug traffickers often smuggle drugs onto large vessels.

MSC’s global PR manager, Giles Broom, told Forbes, “We have a very long track record of cooperation with authorities in the United States. It’s an industry-wide problem that we’re tackling at the moment, it impacts the entire shipping and logistics sector.”

U.S. Attorney William M. McSwain tweeted a statement on the seizure this past Monday. McSwain stated that a deal with two international shipping firms with financial interests in the MSC Gayane had been made. Millions of dollars of security and surety bonds were placed. The ship has been returned to commercial service.

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Maggie May Ethridge is the author of Atmospheric Disturbances: Scenes From a Marriage (Shebooks, 2014) and the recently completed novel, Agitate My Heart. She is a freelance writer published in Rolling Stone, VOX, Washington Post, The Guardian and many others. Find her at her blog Flux Capacitor or on LinkedIn or Twitter.