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French Arrest “Passengers” Smuggling 95kg of Cocaine on Costa Cruise

cocaine smuggling cruise
Four Brazilians boarded the Costa Favolosa in South America carrying more than 95 kg of cocaine (Costa file photo)

Published May 19, 2023 5:13 PM by The Maritime Executive

French authorities are confirming that they are detaining four individuals who had been sailing aboard a cruise ship under the guise of being tourists, but who were in fact hired Brazilian drug smugglers carrying large quantities of cocaine. While it is not the first time the Brazilian drug cartels have attempted this method of smuggling, it appears to be the largest quantity of cocaine yet seized from a cruise ship.

As first reported by the French news outlet La Provence, the French authorities in the port of Marseille became suspicious of the actions of two travelers as they were preparing to go ashore during a port call on May 2. A known drug smuggling port, the French were doing bag checks of the people going ashore when they noticed a couple acting suspiciously.

The Costa Cruises’ ship the Costa Favolosa (114,400 gross tons) is a large cruise ship accommodating over 3,000 passengers or over 4,800 when full. The ship was on a cruise that had departed Savona, Italy, and after the port call in France was due to sail to Morocco. It was in the process of repositioning to Northern Europe for the summer. 

The young man and woman were reportedly acting like “lovers” but the French noticed they also had a large suitcase which seemed odd for a ship making a short port call. When the couple spotted the bag check they reportedly turned around and went back into the ship. A short time later the woman reappeared carrying a small backpack. When the authorities approached her for a bag check she flung the backpack over the rail into the harbor.

Retrieving the backpack, the French police reported finding 8.4 kg of cocaine, which also gave them the authority to search the woman’s cabin. It was then that they discovered the extent of the smuggling effort later confirmed by the passengers who said they had been recruited by a Brazilian drug cartel that provided the cabins and covered their expenses.

Searching the cabin, the police discovered information that led them to a second cabin and that four people had boarded the cruise ship in Brazil. The ship was on an 18-day transatlantic repositioning cruise that departed Rio de Janeiro on April 14, with stops in Salvador de Bahia, Recife, Tenerife, Cadiz, and Barcelona before reaching Marseille. The four Brazilians, however, ages 26 to 31, had stayed aboard going to Italy and back to France. It is unclear where they had been scheduled to debark.

French authorities said the search of the two cabins revealed a suitcase under one of the beds containing an additional 86.4 kg of cocaine. In total, they retrieved 95 kilos valued at over $5 million. That, however, was not the total brought aboard the ship in Brazil.

When they captured the two passengers, the police discovered that two others were already ashore. They later return to the ship and were arrested. The police found out that those two passengers had taken an unannounced amount of cocaine ashore in another suitcase and had been directed to drop off that suitcase at an Airbnb apartment. The suitcase had already been removed from the apartment when the police arrived there.

The repositioning cruises from Brazil to Europe at the end of the season appear to have become a new target for the drug cartels. Last year, 10 passengers were apprehended with 54 kilos of cocaine aboard the MSC Seaside when the cruise ship arrived in Valencia, Spain after a trip from South America. Shortly after that, it was revealed that Brazilian police had arrested six passengers attempting to board the Costa’s Costa Diadema in the port of Santos. In that arrest, 30 kg of cocaine was recovered.

Costa confirmed to the media that passengers with illegal substances had been detained by the authorities. The company referred all other questions to the police.