Over $1 Billion Worth of Cocaine Seized in Philadelphia — the Largest Drug Bust in City History

Joelle Goldstein

One of the largest drug busts in United States history occurred on Tuesday after authorities seized more than 30,000 pounds of cocaine from a Philadelphia ship port.

The U.S. Attorney’s office in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania announced the city’s historic seizure at the Packer Marine Terminal on Tuesday afternoon, noting that the hefty amount of cocaine has an approximate 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 U.S. Attorney EDPA tweeted. “This is the largest drug seizure in the history of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.”

In a separate tweet, the attorney’s office revealed that several members of the ship’s crew had been arrested and federally charged, with an investigation currently underway.

An officer with a drug-sniffing dog | Matt Rourke/AP/Shutterstock

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U.S. EDPA Attorney William M. McSwain also confirmed the findings on his Twitter and explained that the massively dangerous bust also served as a historic seizure in the country’s history.

“This is one of the largest drug seizures in United States history. This amount of cocaine could kill millions – MILLIONS – of people,” McSwain wrote. “My Office is committed to keeping our borders secure and streets safe from deadly narcotics.”

The attorney also gave a special shoutout to the investigators who have been helping with the incident.

“While the investigation is ongoing, I want to thank all of our federal, state, and local partners for your incredible work so far in this investigation,” he added. “@ICEgov @CBPMidAtlantic @PhillyPolice @USCG.”

According to a U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency official who spoke with CBS News, the drug find comes in as the third largest in U.S. history — behind a 1989 downtown Los Angeles bust where nearly 43,000 pounds of cocaine was recovered.

Representatives at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.

Authorities searching the ship

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Court documents obtained by Fox News indicate that the drug bust began on Monday afternoon, hours after the ship had arrived from Liberia, but it wasn’t until Tuesday when drug agents searched the MSC Gayane with dogs.

Two of the ship’s crew members, Fonofaavae Tiasage and second mate Ivan Durasevic, were charged with conspiracy to possess cocaine aboard a ship, according to the outlet.

According to a government affidavit submitted to the court, crew members allegedly stated that they helped load the cocaine onto the large ship while at sea off the west coast of South America. Authorities who spoke to one of the crew members said on two separate occasions, 14 boats came into contact with the ship and that several ship employees helped transfer the bales of cocaine.

It is not yet clear if Tiasage and Durasevic have obtained attorneys or whether any other crew members will face charges.

CBS Philadelphia also reported that the 33,000 pounds of cocaine were transported to an undisclosed federal facility to be investigated and that there is a possibility more drugs may be discovered in other containers.

Authorities searching the ship

The MSC Gayane’s parent company, MSC Mediterranean Shipping Co., issued a statement to Fox News and CBS News and said it was “aware” of the incident and taking the “matter very seriously.”

“Mediterranean Shipping Company is aware of reports of an incident at the Port of Philadelphia in which U.S. authorities made a seizure of illicit cargo. MSC takes this matter very seriously and is grateful to the authorities for identifying any suspected abuse of its services,” their statement reads.

“Unfortunately, shipping and logistics companies are from time to time affected by trafficking problems. MSC has a longstanding history of cooperating with U.S. federal law enforcement agencies to help disrupt illegal narcotics trafficking and works closely with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP),” the company added.

Representatives at MSC Mediterranean Shipping Co. did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.

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Prior to the ship’s stop in Philadelphia, MSC Gayane’s ports of call were in the Bahamas on June 13, Panama on June 9, Peru on May 24 and Colombia on May 19, according to online ship tracking records.

Federal authorities claim Colombia is one of the primary suppliers of cocaine to the U.S., Fox News reports.

The cocaine discovery comes three months after agents seized 1,185 pounds of the drug in Philadelphia, with an estimated street value of $38 million, according to the outlet. At the time, it was the city’s largest seizure in more than 20 years.