Customs Agents Bust Smugglers on Miami River


By The Maritime Executive 01-18-2018 06:04:00

A Customs and Border Patrol unit with the service's Anti-Terrorism Contraband Enforcement Team at PortMiami has seized another shipment of cocaine from a vessel on the Miami River, a hot-spot for drug trafficking. The team found 225 bags of cocaine hidden behind metal tubing on an unnamed ship. 

“This is one of most significant seizures in the last few years and the latest result of CBP’s multi-layered, risk-based approach to enhance the security of our borders,” said CBP Miami seaport director Jorge Roig. “CBP plays a critical role in efforts to keep dangerous drugs from reaching local communities across South Florida.”

Over the last three years, CBP has created a focused inspection program for shipping arriving on the Miami River, a working waterway that has berths for superyachts and shallow-draft freighters alike. It is a hub for commercial trade with the Caribbean islands, making it an attractive destination for smuggling activity in years past. Efforts by the Coast Guard and CBP to crack down on illegal activity along the waterfront have led to recent improvements, and CBP's enforcement work continues. 

The agency says that to catch smuggling vessels, it uses advanced electronic information about every passenger and cargo shipment, along with canine inspections and non-intrusive devices. These methods have yielded seven big busts over the past seven years, including 195 pounds of cocaine found on a fishing boat last summer and 2,000 pounds under the deck plates of a freighter in May 2016. 

The 2016 bust was the biggest on the Miami River in a decade. On June 1, 2016, CBP inspectors searched the 1983-built general cargo ship Lisanne and located hundreds of bricks in hidden compartments under her weather decks. Agents found the drugs by drilling through the deck plates. "The metal compartments were flush. They were welded back over. They sand them down, they repaint them and then it makes it very hard to see," said customs port director Tony De Francisci, speaking to the local CBS TV affiliate. "We drilled them out and found a white powdery substance." 

The agency has not released the name of the vessel detained this week, nor its plans for her disposition. In the past, CBP has seized vessels involved in drug-smuggling on the Miami River and transferred them to Palm Beach County for sinking as artificial reefs.