The US Attorney’s Office has said that a Montenegrin national was sentenced to five years and ten months in prison, and two years of supervised release by a United States District Court judge, on charges of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine on a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.
For the first half of 2019 until mid-June of that year, Vladimir Penda, a crewmember who worked on board the container vessel MSC Gayane as the ship’s fourth engineer, conspired with others to engage in a bulk cocaine smuggling scheme, the US Department of Justice said in a press release following the sentencing.
On multiple occasions during MSC Gayane’s voyage and while at sea, crewmembers including Penda helped load bulk packages of cocaine onto the vessel from speedboats that approached the vessel in the middle of the night under cover of darkness. Crewmembers used the vessel’s crane to hoist cargo nets full of cocaine onto the vessel and then stashed the cocaine in the vessel’s shipping containers.
Crewmembers bent railings on the ship and pulled back doors on the shipping containers so they could fit the huge quantities of cocaine into the containers, the justice department added.
After hiding the drugs among legitimate cargo, crewmembers used fake seals to reseal the shipping containers in which they had stashed the cocaine in order to disguise their clandestine activities and contraband.
On June 17, 2019, federal, state, and local law enforcement agents including personnel from the US Coast Guard boarded MSC Gayane when it arrived at Packer Marine Terminal in Philadelphia and seized about 20 tonnes of cocaine worth over US$1 billion from its shipping containers in one of the largest drug seizures in US history.
Seven other crewmembers involved in this smuggling scheme were arrested and pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine based on their participation in the scheme. These crewmembers include: Bosko Markovic, 39, of Montenegro, the ship’s chief officer; Ivan Durasevic, 31, of Montenegro, the second officer; Nenad Ilic, 41, of Montenegro, the engineer cadet; Aleksandar Kavaja, 27, of Montenegro, the electrician; Stefan Bojevic, 29, of Serbia, the assistant reeferman; Fonofaavae Tiasaga, 29, of Samoa, an able seaman; and Laauli Pulu, 34, of Samoa, an ordinary seaman.
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