Two More MSC Gayane Crewmembers Sentenced for Cocaine Smuggling

msc gayane, cocaine, cbp
Part of the massive cocaine haul from MSC Gayane (CBP)

Published Aug 3, 2021 2:51 PM by The Maritime Executive

Two MSC Gayane Crew Members Sentenced for Conspiracy to Smuggle $1 Billion Worth of Cocaine into the United States

Two former crewmembers of the boxship MSC Gayane have been handed years-long prison sentences for their role in the massive smuggling scheme aboard the vessel in 2019. 

Ivan Durasevic, 31, and Nenad Ilic, 41, both of Montenegro, were sentenced by a U.S. district court judge on charges of "conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine on a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States." Durasevic was sentenced to six and a half years in prison, and Ilic was sentenced to seven.

In June 2019, federal law enforcement agents boarded MSC Gayane when she arrived at Philadelphia's Packer Marine Terminal. They seized about 20 tons of cocaine worth over $1 billion U.S. dollars, marking one of the largest drug seizures in U.S. history.

Durasevic was the second officer and Ilic was the engineer cadet aboard MSC Gayane during the voyage in question. According to prosecutors, for months in early 2019, Durasevic and Ilic conspired with others in a massive cocaine smuggling scheme. On multiple occasions, they and other crewmembers helped load hundreds of packages of cocaine from speedboats and take it on board.

These transfers were conducted in the middle of the night under cover of darkness, prosecutors said. The crewmembers used the vessel’s crane to hoist cargo nets full of cocaine on board, then stowed it in shipping containers. They bent the ship's railings and pulled open doors so they could get into the containers, hid the drugs with the legitimate cargo, then used fake seals to reseal the containers to make it look like they had not been opened. According to prosecutors, Durasevic and Ilic operated mobile “narco” phones to coordinate the operation with co-conspirators on shore, and they recruited other crewmembers to help. 

Five other crew members from MSC Gayane have been arrested, entered guilty pleas and received prison sentences. These crewmembers include Bosko Markovic, 39, the ship’s chief officer; Vladimir Penda, 27, the fourth engineer; Stefan Bojevic, 29, the assistant reeferman; Fonofaavae Tiasaga, 29, an able seaman; and Laauli Pulu, 34, an ordinary seaman. Aleksandar Kavaja, the ship's electrician, pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.

"Prosecutors in our office have been working non-stop to pursue justice since the MSC Gayane docked in the port of Philadelphia over two years ago, and we will not stop until the case is closed," said Acting U.S. Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams.