MSC Denies Bloomberg’s Allegations of Infiltration by Drug Cartel

MSC denies allegations of drug cartel smuggling
MSC refuted allegations by Bloomberg stemming from the 2019 seizure of cocaine on its ship (file photo)

Published Dec 19, 2022 2:19 PM by The Maritime Executive

MSC issued a statement strongly denying accusations by the Bloomberg news organization that the shipping giant had been “infiltrated” by a “cocaine-smuggling cartel” based on the massive 2019 seizure of cocaine by U.S. authorities when the MSC Gayane arrived at the port of Philadelphia. The carrier found itself in the unique position of defending seafarers from Montenegro as well as its actions related to the well-known case which has recently again been in the news.

Bloomberg released an in-depth expose (subscription required) from two reporters at its Bloomberg BusinessWeek outlet. The report has been widely carried across Bloomberg Radio and other news outlets detailing how the news organization says MSC “became a prime drug-trafficking conduit for Balkan gangs.”

The case drew fresh attention this fall when the 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 arrest drew additional attention as it was of a former professional boxer Goran Gogic who is from Montenegro. The U.S. charged him not only with masterminding the 2019 seizure but other smuggling incidents involving additional MSC ships.

“MSC strongly objects to Bloomberg’s headline claim that the subversion of a small number of seafarers from Montenegro, in what remain very specific circumstances, amounts to the ‘company’ being ‘infiltrated’ by a drugs cartel,” the company writes in its statement. They say that most of the elements in the Bloomberg story have “already been publicly reported,” while citing UN data illustrating that the cocaine trade has been surging in recent years.

MSC responds to Bloomberg saying that the smugglers used “groundbreaking methods” and that the “operations could not have been foreseen or predicted by any honest shipping company.” They say that their staff is neither mandated, resourced, or trained to confront organized crime. 

The shipping company further defends seafarers from Montenegro saying that they are hard-working, honest, and good at their jobs. They say some individuals were corrupted by the drug traffickers or threatened by dangerous criminals in response while citing the company’s victim impact statement filed with the court. Multiple individuals from the crew of the MSC Gayane were convicted in the operation where the authorities said boats would be brought alongside the containership and the crewmembers would hoist the drugs to the deck and hide the packages aboard. 

MSC was never charged with any of the crimes and reports that it has actively taken steps to counter the criminals. They however only respond to the MSC Gayane although in the recent indictment the U.S. cited other seizures and there have been numerous media reports including from Australia of additional smuggling cases

The carrier confirms that as a “precautionary response to the Gayane,” it reallocated all Montenegrins away from shipping routes that were the most vulnerable to drug trafficking. It however also points to the “robust vetting procedure” for all crewmembers including U.S. visas. 

MSC says the 2019 incident was a wake-up call for the entire container shipping and logistics industry. They respond to Bloomberg saying the company has learned from the increased threat. They say that there are now more than 50 different ways in which MSC seeks to detect potential illicit activity across major trade lanes.