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Mastermind in Cocaine Smuggling Scheme Aboard MSC Vessels Arrested

mastermind arrested in cocaine smuggling aboard MSC ships
Prosecutors cited three smuggling cases involving MSC ships while arresting the mastermind in the narcotrafficking plot (file photo)

Published Oct 31, 2022 6:39 PM by The Maritime Executive

In a new twist in the long-running drug smuggling case involving containerships from Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), U.S. Federal authorities reported the indictment and arrest of one of the masterminds behind the narcotrafficking plot who they say worked with the crews and port workers moving over 20 tons of cocaine. The suspect was arrested at Miami International Airport on October 30 as he attempted to board an international flight.

“The arrest and indictment of Goran Gogic, a former boxer allegedly responsible for trafficking a staggering amount of cocaine, more than 20 tons, which he attempted to move through U.S. ports, is a resounding victory for law enforcement,” said Breon Peace, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York. Gogic, a citizen of Montenegro, and a former heavyweight boxer, was charged with one count of conspiracy to violate the Maritime Drug Law Enforcement Act and three counts of violating the Maritime Drug Law Enforcement Act.  

Federal officials involving a wide-ranging cooperating between many agencies as well as New York state and city police linked the Gogic and his conspirators to multiple shipments including the June 2019 seizure of nearly 19,000 KG of cocaine valued at more than $1 billion, aboard the MSC Gayane, which was one of the largest seizures of cocaine in U.S. history. Multiple crewmembers from the vessel have been convicted in the plot but Gogic is the first person reported to be one of the shippers.

U.S. law enforcement also revealed two other large seizures related to Gogic also found aboard MSC vessels. In February 2019, they discovered 1,437 KG of cocaine aboard the MSC Carlotta while the vessel was in the Port of New York and New Jersey. A month later they discovered 537 KG of cocaine hidden aboard the MSC Desiree at the Port of Philadelphia. Law enforcement officers said they also seized significant amounts of cocaine related to the scheme at ports in Panama, Peru, and the Netherlands, among other countries.

MSC reported in 2021 that it had spent tens of millions of dollars to boost its anti-smuggling systems, including expanded deployment security guards and onboard CCTV cameras, as well as routine canine and driver inspections. The carrier itself was not charged in connection with the smuggling aboard the MSC Gayane, but prosecutors indicted seven former members of the ship’s crew.

As alleged in the indictment and court documents, between May 2018 and July 2019, Gogic conspired with others to distribute massive quantities of cocaine using commercial cargo ships. Gogic coordinated with the sources of the cocaine in Colombia, the crewmembers who transported tons of cocaine on commercial cargo ships, and the network of port workers who transported and offloaded the cocaine in Europe via the United States. 

Members of the conspiracy loaded the commercial cargo ships at night near the coast and ports, working with crewmembers who would hoist loads of cocaine from speedboats that approached the ships at multiple points along their route. To physically load the cocaine aboard, they used the ship’s cranes as well as nets. Once the cocaine was onboard, the crewmembers would hide it within specific shipping containers that they knew had sufficient room to conceal the large quantities of cocaine and for which they had duplicate counterfeit seals. They selected the specific containers to be used to conceal the cocaine based, in part, on the containers’ location and orientation, and route and destination on board the vessel.  

U.S. law enforcement officers said that the complex operation relied on having access to each ship’s crew, route, manifest, real-time positioning and geolocation data, and a knowledge of what legitimate cargo is contained in each container. The conspiracy used a different set of workers with access to the ports in Europe to clandestinely access and remove the cocaine from the shipping containers upon their arrival. 

Gogic is expected to be brought to New York for arraignment in the Eastern District of New York at a later date. If convicted, he faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years and up to life in prison.