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Two Samoans among those arrested in 16-ton cocaine seizure in U.S.

An officer stand guard over a fraction of the cocaine seized
The estimated street value of the drugs is over $1 billion

Philadelphia, PA — Two Samoan men are among the six crew members of the MSC Gayne cargo ship who have been arrested in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in connection with the seizure of more than 16 tons of cocaine, which federal authorities say has an estimated street value of over $1 billion.

“Federal authorities have seized approximately 16.5 tons of cocaine from a large ship at the Packer Marine Terminal in Philadelphia,” the US Attorney’s Office in Philadelphia announced Tuesday afternoon on Twitter. In latter tweets, the feds, who made the discovery on Monday following a routine state customs inspection, say the investigation continues and more details will be released in coming days.

The Associated Press reported the cocaine bust, noting that two crewmembers were arrested on Tuesday. Based on the criminal complaint, the AP identified the arrested pair, as the ship’s second mate, Ivan Durasevic, and another crewmember, Fonofaavae Tiasaga.

Both men are charged with conspiracy to possess cocaine aboard a ship, according to the AP, which detailed what’s cited in the federal complaint. (See Samoa News Wednesday edition for the AP story).

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Wednesday that Durasevic, 29, is a Serbian national, and Tiasaga, 28, is from Samoa. The pair implicated others aboard the vessel, including the Gayane’s chief officer, chief mate, an electrician, and an engineer, according to court filings, which have since been removed from the court’s public docket.

(Samoa News notes that as of yesterday morning, this case remains out of public viewing on online court records.)

Yesterday morning, the Philadelphia Inquirer updated its story, saying four more crewmembers have been arrested — according to sources that spoke with the newspaper on condition of anonymity. 

The additional crewmembers arrested include, 32-year-old Laauli Pulu, the newspaper reports, but didn’t cite Pulu’s nationality.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Durasevic and Tiasaga admitted to investigators that they helped haul aboard bales of cocaine from 14 smaller boats that approached the Gayane under cover of darkness at various points during journeys between Panama and the Peruvian coast in May and earlier this month.

For their efforts, they said, they were promised payments of $50,000 or more.

Several US news outlets report that the cocaine shipment’s final destination was a country in Europe.

The US Attorney’s Office in Philadelphia plans to hold a news conference today, along with its state partners in the investigation.