cocaine
© REUTERS/Ranu Abhelakh
In one of the biggest drug busts in the US history, 16.5 tons of cocaine have been found aboard a ship docked in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The street value of the haul is estimated at $1 billion.

The US Attorney office in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania announced on Twitter that an astonishing 16.5 tons (15 metric tons) of cocaine was discovered in course of the raid by federal agents, which is the biggest amount ever seized in the history of the district.


Law enforcement swooped down on a "large" container ship moored at the Packer Marine Terminal on Tuesday afternoon. Photos from the scene show agents with sniffer dogs inspecting a large red container loaded onto the vessel.

port of Philadelphia
© AFP / DOMINICK REUTER
Cranes unload the freight ship MSC Gayane, after US authorities seized more than 16 tons of cocaine with an estimated street value of over $1 billion at the port of Philadelphia
The multi-agency investigation led by Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Protection Agency is still underway. The crew has been apprehended and charged under federal law. The exact charges the alleged smugglers are facing have not been revealed.

The ship has not been officially identified either. However, photos of the drug bust suggest the name of the vessel is MSC Gayane.

Online tracking data shows that the ship was sailing under a Liberian flag. It set off from the Colombian port of Buenaventura on May 19, making stops in Callao, Peru, on May 24, Cristobal, Panama, on June 9, and Freeport, The Bahamas on June 13 before it arrived in Philadelphia.

It is believed that the ship might have been loaded with the narcotics cargo in the Bahamas, NBC News reported, citing a senior law enforcement official.

The Gayane might have been heading to Europe, with the Dutch city of Rotterdam listed as its next port of call, according to Philadelphia's WPVI-TV.

The amount of cocaine found on board could have claimed "millions" of lives if released on the black market, US Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania William M. McSwain said in a tweet.


The shipping company MSC has been made aware of the find, saying "it takes this matter very seriously" and looks forward to cooperating with the US authorities.