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MSC Infiltrated By Cocaine-Smuggling Cartel? 

MSC Infiltrated By Cocaine-Smuggling Cartel? 

In a statement, Mediterranean Shipping Company, MSC, has denied allegations made in an exposé from Bloomberg that its company has been “infiltrated” by the Balkan drug cartel. 

MSC, founded in 1970 with headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, is one of the largest shipping companies in the world, operating a fleet of over 700 vessels and present in over 150 countries. It carries an estimated 23 million TEUs annually.

What’s in the report from Bloomberg? 

In 2019, US authorities seized a jaw-dropping 20 tons of cocaine, worth about  $1 billion, from the MSC Gayane at the Port of Philadelphia. Several members of the crew were found guilty in connection with the operations. Due to the magnitude of the crime, authorities seized the entire ship as well. 

In an accompanying Bloomberg Original video, reporters Lauren Etter and Michael Riley detail how such a large-scale operation took place.  They reveal that The MSC Gayane cocaine operation involved eight crew members, including the chief mate, who loaded cocaine onto the ship by crane from smaller boats that sailed alongside the enormous vessel in South American waters. 

Bloomberg goes deeper into the background of these eight workers…

…and discovers that four of them were directly recruited for operations aboard the Gayane. This led them to Montenegro, a country known for skilled seafarer labor. MSC has the biggest shipping recruitment ties to the country, employing over a third of all Montenegrin sailors. 

That’s where the Balkan Cartel comes in. 

Etter explains the widespread control organized criminal groups have had in the Balkan since the breakup of Yugoslavia, the Balkan wars, and the subsequent collapse of the economy. So, Etter goes on, it only makes sense that the Balkan Cartel would target sailors on MSC ships for recruitment in nefarious operations. 

Riley says that MSC was made aware workers were being targeted by Balkan cartels…

…and had ample opportunity to curb the issue. MSC management was reportedly approached by at least three different countries about the problem. The opinion of law officials is that the company did not do enough. But MSC has a different view. 

MSC defends itself in a recent statement

  • They defended their vetting procedure, saying the traffickers used “groundbreaking methods” that could not be foreseen or predicted by any honest shipping company. 
  • They had increased security on ships going from South America to Europe. 
  • Mainly, the company argues that illicit trafficking is an industry-wide problem and that shipping lines and staff are not mandated, resourced, or trained to confront the dangerous individuals who operate organized criminal organizations. 

The Bigger Picture

US authorities have calculated a $600 million fine and want the company to completely forfeit the Gayane in a civil case against the company. MSC has paid $50 million to “bail out” its ship in the meantime. The case is important because it will determine how much, if any, responsibility MSC and other shipping companies bear when incidences like these happen.