MSC Gayane’s Chief Mate Gets Longest Jail Time in Drug Smuggling Case

Chief mate sentenced to jail in drug smuggling on MSC Gayane
A portion of the cocaine seized from the MSC Gayane in 2019 (DEA photo)

Published Jun 11, 2021 6:06 PM by The Maritime Executive

A U.S. District Court judge handed down the longest prison sentence related to the 2019 cocaine smuggling incident aboard the MSC Gayane for the boxship’s chief mate. As the senior most member of the ship’s crew arrested by federal agents in what they term one of the largest drug seizures in U.S. history, prosecutors said the chief mate ran the operation and recruited the other participants. 

The chief mate, Bosko Markovic, age 39 of Montenegro, was sentenced to seven years in prison according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. Previous sentences in the case have ranged between two and six years. A total of eight crew members, or nearly a third of the vessel’s crew, ranging from the chief mate and second officer to an engineer cadet, electrician, assistant reeferman, and two seamen, were arrested. The vessel’s fourth engineer, Vladimir Penda, age 27 of Montenegro, was sentenced in April 2021 to five years and ten months in prison to be followed by two years of supervised release.

During the sentencing hearing in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia, the U.S. assistant district attorney argued that the chief mate was critical to the smuggling operation as he oversaw all aspects of the vessel’s daily operation. They said he had recruited other members of the crew and had communicated with the South Americans supplying the cocaine, which was brought aboard the vessel in duffle bags and hidden among the containers. 

In previous hearings, the federal attorneys described how the vessel coordinated with people onshore to relay the vessel’s position and the timing for rendezvous. The cocaine was reportedly brought aboard at several points during the voyage between Peru and Panama. Such vast quantities were being brought aboard that they reported a crane was used to hoist the duffle bags to the deck from speedboats. Federal agents ultimately recovered 20 tons of cocaine valued at over $1 billion during a raid on the boxship in Philadelphia on June 17, 2019.

Much of the details of the case remain sealed, but the prosecutors reported tracing the smuggling operating from Philadelphia back to Eastern Europe where the crew members were recruited in the Balkans to South America where the drugs came aboard and ultimately to Europe. The cocaine was destined for Rotterdam when it was intercepted by the Americans.

Marovic and his co-conspirators have all pled guilty, and yesterday he expressed his remorse for his role in the plot. In his defense, his lawyers said he was recruited by unnamed members of the drug cartel while he was at home with promises of more than $1 million, or ten times his annual income, in payouts to complete the smuggling operation. At the engineer’s sentencing in the spring, he said that he had been threatened and he feared for the safety of his family if he did not go along with the scheme. 

MSC was not charged in connection with the smuggling. The shipping company last spring said it has spent more than $100 million on security improvements across its operations and entered a victim’s statement during previous sentencing hearings.