Authorities unveil stacks of seized cocaine after port bust

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Friday, June 21, 2019
Authorities unveil stacks of seized cocaine after Philadelphia port bust
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Authorities unveil stacks of seized cocaine after Philadelphia port bust. Watch the report from Jeff Chirico on Action News at 4 p.m. on June 21, 2019.

PHILADELPHIA -- Authorities displayed stacks upon stacks of cocaine during a news conference detailing the historic drug bust at the Packer Marine Terminal in Philadelphia earlier this week.

More than 17.5 tons with more than $1 billion in street value were discovered on a cargo ship at the port on Monday.

The bust is the largest cocaine seizure in U.S. Customs and Border Protection's 230-year history.

Last Sunday, a multi-agency team detected anomalies in several containers. Authorities then sent in an expanded team with local law enforcement on Monday, boarding the vessel to continue their investigation.

Using fiber optic scopes, narcotic detecting dogs and a x-ray scanning truck, authorities were able to verified the anomalies in seven containers.

Those containers were taken to Customs and Border Protection's central examination station for further investigation.

In all, 1,200 to 3,000 bricks of cocaine were discovered in each container, 15,000 bricks in all totaling 35,000 pounds.

The displayed of narcotics at Friday's news conference was only one quarter of the total amount seized.

"Laid end-to-end, all the bricks would cover a distance of about 2.5 miles," said Casey Durst, Director of Operations for U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Six vessel crew members are charged with violating federal narcotics smuggling laws

The ship's course started in Chile then stopped in Peru and the Bahamas before making its way to Philadelphia. The US Attorney's Office Eastern District of Pennsylvania says the ship was then headed to Europe with a stop in Rotterdam.

The intended destination for the cocaine shipment is unclear.

An affidavit of probable cause obtained by Action News shows that two of the ship's crew members have admitted taking part in loading the cocaine from 14 separate boats while en route at sea.

The historic bust comes amid a series of large seizures of the drug in the Northeast, including a seizure back in May of roughly 450 kilos of cocaine at the Port of Philadelphia.

Another bust at the Port of Philadelphia in March netted a total of 450 bricks of cocaine, weighing 1,185 pounds with a street value of $38 million. At the time, law enforcement officials said it was their biggest cocaine bust at the Port of Philadelphia in 21 years.

New York saw its largest cocaine bust in a quarter century in March as well with $77 million worth of the drug seized from a cargo ship in the port of New York and New Jersey.

Traffickers have been seeking out a new market for cocaine by mixing it with the powerful drug fentanyl, which is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine. Synthetic opioids, like fentanyl have been responsible for thousands of overdose deaths a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Cocaine, New York's nemesis of the 90s, is back-indicating traffickers push to build an emerging customer base of users mixing cocaine with fentanyl," DEA Special Agent in Charge Ray Donovan said at the time of the New York seizure. "This record-breaking seizure draws attention to this new threat and shows law enforcement's collaborative efforts in seizing illicit drugs before it gets to the streets and into users' hands."

In July of 2018, routine examinations at the Port of Philadelphia led to a big fentanyl bust. U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers seized 110 pounds of the deadly opioid, with a street value estimated at $1.7 million.


Information from ABC News was used in this story.