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Feds: Philadelphia port bust nets more than $1 billion in cocaine

Packer Avenue Marine Terminal Port on the Delaware River in South Philadelphia is shown Tuesday, June 18, 2019, when shipping containers full of illegal drugs have been found and seized by federal authorities.

JOSE F. MORENO/PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER/TNS

By JEREMY ROEBUCK | The Philadelphia Inquirer | Published: June 18, 2019

PHILADELPHIA (Tribune News Service) — Federal authorities Tuesday seized more than 16 tons of cocaine from a cargo ship docked at the Port of Philadelphia — a massive haul they estimated was worth more than $1 billion and described as one of the largest busts in the nation’s history.

The contraband was discovered in several shipping containers aboard a vessel bound for Europe and arriving from prior stops in Chile, Panama and the Bahamas. Several members of the ship’s crew were arrested and charged, a spokesperson for the U.S. attorney’s office said.

“This is one of the largest seizures in United States history,” U.S. Attorney William M. McSwain said in a tweet. “This amount of cocaine could kill millions — MILLIONS — of people.”

The discovery occurred at the Packer Avenue Marine Terminal Port on the Delaware River in South Philadelphia. Agents continued to scour the ship as of Tuesday afternoon as news helicopters buzzed overhead.

Little could be seen from the port’s entrance, surrounded by barbed wire fencing, and the usual traffic of 18-wheeler trucks maneuvering in and out of the facility continued undisturbed. Three U.S. Customs and Border Protection vehicles were spotted driving around the scene just before 3:30 p.m.

Tuesday’s seizure breaks a record set just three months ago, when customs agents reported another unprecedented cocaine seizure — 1,815 pounds worth an estimated $38 million and the largest in the Philadelphia port’s history — on a cargo ship carrying natural rubber from Guatemala, bound for the Netherlands. No arrests were made in that case.

The Philadelphia busts come amid a series of large cocaine seizures across the Northeast. New York saw its largest cocaine bust in a quarter-century in March with $77 million worth of the drug seized from a cargo ship in the port of New York and New Jersey.

In fiscal year 2018, customs agents seized an average of 4,657 pounds of narcotics per day, the agency reported on its website.

A report issued last year by the Drug Enforcement Administration said that cocaine’s “availability and use in the United States continued to rise between 2016 and 2017,” and that customs agents seized more cocaine in 2017 than any year since at least 2010.

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