Two cargo vessel crewmen tied to one of the largest drug busts in U.S. history have been awarded prison terms. In their hearing, they told a federal judge on Monday that even though they initially resisted but were ultimately helpless to refuse the offer. The people were recruited into a major conspiracy for smuggling cocaine 20 tons through Philadelphia port.
Ivan Durasevic, 31, and Nenad Ilic, 41, both from Montenegro, stated that an unidentified representative belonging to a powerful Balkan drug trafficking organization connected with them. The two were recruited way before they set sail aboard the MSC Gayane. This was a vessel from which authorities of the United States discovered cocaine worth $1 billion in June 2019.
Although the two turned down the said offers of “astronomical sums”, however, fearing their own and their family’s safety, they joined the smuggling endeavour.
Durasevic’s attorney, Mythri A. Jayaram, stated that “It wasn’t even any viable option for the people to refuse he was recruited”. She further added, “Actually recruited is too minor a word. It was more of coercion.”
On Monday, US District sentenced the crewmen once they pleaded guilty to a count of the drug trafficking conspiracy. The U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III ordered Durasevic and Ilic to serve individual prison terms of six and a half and seven years respectively.
Although they mentioned claims of heavy coercion, the judge stated that both the individuals opted to participate “in grave, major drug activities and that too unprecedented. This could lead to deaths of thousands of people.”
The other individuals of Gayane also received orders to serve prison terms ranging from 2-7 years. However, one of the persons yet remains to receive a sentence.
In the period since the drug bust that has ignited a globe-spanning investigation, none of the participants aboard the Gayane seems to have any information about the organizers of the smuggling case.
Montenegro, plagued with gang violence, corruption, low employment rate, has been prime recruiting ground for the drug trade.
Global shipping corporations like the Mediterranean Shipping Co., the Switzerland-based conglomerate who are also the owners of Gayane, employed an estimated 7,000 Montenegrins each year. Meanwhile, the clans of several organized criminals groups engage in the shipping trade and specifically target crew members as active co-conspirators. This is to transport their illegal products.
Dennis Cogan, Ilic’s attorney, stated that he often received anonymous phone calls. The first was before he set sail from Antwerp in Belgium. And after that, once was when he was sailing in the sea. The callers would threaten him to engage and take part in the conspiracy. It also offered him a staggering amount of $ 1 million for his efforts.
Even though he failed to identify the recruiter, he stated that agreeing to the man “was the biggest mistake and the worst thing he’s ever done.”
Durasevic, who said he was offered $200,000, also failed to recognize who recruited him. Jayaraman stated that once after he gave his approval to engage in the conspiracy, he tried to throw away the phone (the one where the traffickers contacted him) into the water. Despite that, they still managed to put pressure on him through his colleagues and other crew members.
Prosecutors, however, stated that they didn’t believe that Durasevic and Ilic were in a bad situation and became so helpless to resist the drug lords. Durasevic, specifically as the third-ranking officer of the ship, was in a good position and played a major role in ensuring that that drug loading activities went as planned. As well as ensure that the illicit cargo went undetected from one port to another.
Using phones, they were provided in advance. Durasevic, in collaboration with the other crewmembers regularly contacted the cocaine suppliers in South America to discretely load the duffel bags that were loaded with white bricks from speedboats during the night. These boats went to Gayane during its journey between Panama and the Peruvian coast.
Durasevic further recruited others on the ship to assist with the manual labour of carrying the cocaine aboard the vessel and concealing them in shipping containers carrying cargo like vegetable extract, wine, scrap metal, and other permissible goods bound for Europe, Asia and Africa.
When U.S. authorities seized the demarked vessel and port it in Philadelphia on its way to the Netherlands, the crewmembers had to pay the heavy price for their misdoing. Durasevic’s family carefully observed the court proceedings via video from their home as they had very limited chances to visit or see him since his arrest in 2019. His wife also informed the court that she was pregnant soon after Durasevic left and set sail on the Gayane. Later, she gave birth to twins.
2 Seafarers Get Prison Terms In Plot To Smuggle 20 Tons Of Cocaine Worth Over $1 Billion appeared first on Marine Insight – The Maritime Industry Guide
Source: Maritime Shipping News