Delayed MSC cargo in transit as drug bust exposure expands

Mediterrean Shipping Co. on Tuesday told customers that while a “small number” of containers are still being held by US authorities after a June 17 seizure of a record amount of cocaine at the Port of Philadelphia, the rest of the shipments on the MSC Gayane have been transshipped via the carrier’s other vessels.

US authorities’ consideration of forfeiting the vessel, which is owned by JP Morgan Asset Management, could push up MSC’s charterer rates, compounding the pain the carrier has already suffered via delayed shipments, added docking fees, and damage to its brand.

“MSC regrets this delay and thanks you for your patience,” the carrier told customers in a July 9 notice. “Please understand, however, that we must follow the instructions of the authorities when such serious abuses of our services are being investigated, whether in relation to the vessel or its cargo.”

MSC said it will notify customers when to expect their cargo headed to Rotterdam, Antwerp, and Le Havre will arrive, and that all services — including the trans-Atlantic service that the MSC Gayane was part of — continue to regularly call US ports. US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said Monday it executed a warrant last Thursday to seize the vessel and possibly subject it to forfeiture, considering that nearly 20 tons of cocaine were found and crew members are alleged to be involved in the conspiracy.

“Seizing a vessel of this size is an unusual enforcement action for CBP, but is indicative of the serious consequences associated with an alleged conspiracy by crewmembers and others to smuggle a record load of dangerous drugs through the United States,” the agency said.

MSC bust latest in a string

The drug bust involving the MSC Gayane comes after a joint US task force found 1.5 tons of cocaine in containers discharged from the MSC Carlotta on Feb. 28 at the Port of New York and New Jersey; Peruvian authorities discovered another 2.4 tons when the ship called in Callao just two months later. In January, Mexican customs officials seized cocaine on the cruise ship MSC Divina during a stop in Cozumel.

A seizure of $10 million worth of cocaine at the Port of Baltimore in June suggests, however, that MSC isn’t the only carrier under the gun to stop illegal cargo. Media reports didn’t identify the carrier involved in the shipments coming from Panama.

Following the seizure of the MSC Gayane, Customs issued a temporary suspension of MSC from a program allowing reduced screening for certified parties. MSC said it’s working with authoritiees to restore its certification in the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (CTPAT) before the 90-day suspension expries.

“Notwithstanding this temporary status, MSC continues to comply with all the requirements of the C-TPAT program and security criteria for ocean carriers including, but not limited to, the screening of customers, maintaining container and vessel security, and the vetting of employees, agents and business partners in accordance with C-TPAT requirements,” MSC told customers.

MSC transported just more than 3 million TEU of US import cargo in 2018, according to data from PIERS, a sister product of JOC.com within IHS Markit, making it the third-largest carrier in the trade with 12.3 percent of the market.

Source: JOC

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