Carib Palm Remains Under Arrest Long After Drug Bust

Carib Palm under arrest (courtesy Directorate General of Customs and Indirect Taxes)

By MarEx 2016-02-11 20:54:16

The general cargo vessel Carib Palm remains detained in the French port of Boulogne-sur-Mer, two months after she was seized in the largest cocaine bust in the nation's history.

The Palm was diverted to the port in December by customs police on suspicion of smuggling while she was on her way from Colombia to Gdansk, Poland. After several hours of searching, authorities discovered 2,300 kilos of cocaine behind an engineering space bulkhead, in large parcels wrapped with trash bags.

The amount was equal to one third of total cocaine seizures in France in 2014. According to black market pricing information, that much cocaine would fetch $190 million at retail pricing in France – or considerably more in some other E.U. nations. French customs authorities described the bust as a multinational, interagency effort.

The Moldovan-flagged, 1977-built Carib Palm has remained under arrest since, undergoing a second, thorough search in January, and she may be returned to her owners if they can prove that they have no connection to the smuggling operation. Otherwise, she may face auction to pay court costs, French media say, depending on the decision of a magistrate.

A yacht arrested in France in a previous drug sting was sold under similar circumstances in 2004, and is now owned by a boutique cruise operator.

Whatever the outcome of her arrest, Moldovan authories said that she may have to seek a new flag state. Carib Palm was only temporarily registered in Moldova, without a final inspection, and the Transports and Road Infrastructure Ministry told media that it may expel the vessel from the State Register of Moldovan Ships, given the fact that the ship has no permanent registration. The Ministry did not identify her owner. 

The vessel's captain and 12 crew were arrested in connection with the bust, and are being held in Lille. French media report that they could face up to ten years in prison each.

Captain Vazha Beridze, a Georgian national, claimed he had no knowledge of or involvement in the drug shipment, according to a statement by his son, Giorgi Beridze.

Captain Beridze reportedly said that he had contracted with a Turkish shipowner to move an unnamed vessel from the Dominican Republic, and had then been transferred to the Carib Palm instead. It was reportedly his first voyage as captain.

Giorgi Beridze added that he had attempted to contact the shipowner but had been unable to reach him by phone.

French authorities have not yet made further arrests in the case. An unnamed source told La Voix du Nord that “the goods were intended for Northern Europe . . . Together with the Netherlands, Belgium and Great Britain, we're trying comparisons with other cases to dismantle an international organization.” The source suggested that such a conspicuously large shipment of cocaine would not have been loaded in a major port in Colombia, and was probably transferred at sea from fishing vessels or go-fast boats.