Federal officials in Philadelphia seized over 16 tons of cocaine from a cargo ship on Tuesday, calling it one of the largest drug seizures in U.S. history and the largest in the history of the eastern district of Pennsylvania.
The street value of the bust is estimated at more than $1 billion.
“This amount of cocaine could kill millions – MILLIONS – of people,” said William M. McSwain, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (EPDA), in a tweet.
This is one of the largest drug seizures in United States history. This amount of cocaine could kill millions – MILLIONS – of people. My Office is committed to keeping our borders secure and streets safe from deadly narcotics. https://t.co/nWPfgpGqYa— US Attorney William M. McSwain (@USAttyMcSwain) June 18, 2019
At least two crew members were arrested, a spokesperson for the EPDA told The Philadelphia Inquirer. Arrest records obtained by the Inquirer identify the crew members as Ivan Durasevic and Fonofaavae Tiasaga, who admitted to smuggling the drugs. According to the Inquirer, Durasevic said two other crew members were involved. The Inquirer also reports that the bust happened after a member the Coast Guard found traces of cocaine on Durasevic’s arms.
A spokesperson for the EPDA told TIME that the name of the ship is MSC Gayane, which made several stops before reaching Philadelphia. The Associated Press reports the ship sailed under the Liberian flag.
Federal officials from the EPDA, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the U.S. Coast Guard were involved in the bust, along with Philadelphia Police, according to the EPDA. An investigation is ongoing.
The seizure greatly outranks two other major cocaine smuggling busts in the U.S. this year—1,185 pounds of cocaine were seized at a shipping port in Philadelphia in March, and 1.6 tons were seized at a port in Newark, N.J. in February, the largest cocaine bust at that port in 25 years.
The 1,185 pounds of cocaine seized in Philadelphia were valued at $38 million, a CBP spokesperson told NBC 10 Philadelphia. In New Jersey, the 1.6 tons seized in Newark were valued at $77 million, according to NorthJersey.com.