Brian X. McCrone

2 More Crewmen from ‘Cocaine Ship' Bust at Philadelphia Port Sentenced

Two seamen from Montenegro were sentenced for their roles in the 2019 "Cocaine Ship" bust in Philadelphia, when 20 tons of the illegal drug were found on a container ship that had arrived from South America.

What to Know

  • This was the largest drug bust in the 230-year history of the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol arm of the Department of Homeland Security.
  • It is believed to be the second-biggest seizure of cocaine in American history, behind only a 1989 cache seized in Los Angeles.
  • The crewmen loaded the drugs on the MSC Gayane after 20 small boats pulled alongside off Peru, authorities said previously.

The sixth and seventh crew members of the notorious MSC Gayane container ship that docked in Philadelphia in 2019 with nearly 20 tons of cocaine aboard have been sentenced for their roles in the drug haul.

Ivan Durasevic, 31, and Nenad Ilic, 41, both of Montenegro, were sentenced Monday by federal Judge Harvey Bartle III, on charges of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine on a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.

The street value of the cocaine seized has been estimated at more than $1 billion. It has never been made public which drug cartel was behind the operation.

Durasevic was sentenced to six and a half years in prison, and Ilic was sentenced to seven years in prison. Five other crewmen were previously sentenced to prison time after pleading guilty to helping load the massive amount of cocaine on the ship as it sailed from South America to Philadelphia. The Gayane was scheduled to sail on to Europe, but U.S. Customs officers detained the crew and ship in Philadelphia after making the bust June 18, 2019.

It was the largest seizure of illegal drugs in the two-century history of U.S. Customs.

Durasevic and Ilic worked on board the MSC Gayane, a commercial shipping vessel, as crew members; Durasevic was the second officer and Ilic was the engineer cadet.

Durasevic said he was paid $50,000 for his role in the conspiracy, according to court records.

The other five crewmen previously sentenced and serving time in prison are Bosko Markovic, 39, of Montenegro, the ship’s chief officer; Vladimir Penda, 27, of Montenegro, the fourth engineer; Stefan Bojevic, 29, of Serbia, the assistant reeferman; Fonofaavae Tiasaga, 29, of Samoa, an able seaman; and Laauli Pulu, 34, of Samoa, an ordinary seaman.

An eighth crewmen charged, Aleksandar Kavaja, 27, of Montenegro, the ship electrician, previously pleaded guilty but has yet to be sentenced.

“As the sentences for the illegal conduct in this case continue to happen, they serve as a reminder that drug smuggling operations will be uncovered one way or another,” Acting U.S. Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams. “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.”

Law enforcement sources told NBC10 in 2019 that the cocaine was not meant for Philadelphia, but instead for the Netherlands and France.

Cranes unload the freight ship MSC Gayane, after US authorities seized more than 16 tons of cocaine at the Packer Marine Terminal in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on June 18, 2019. (DOMINICK REUTER/AFP via Getty Images)

The bust occurred at the Packer Avenue Marine Terminal Port on the Delaware River in South Philadelphia. In addition to cocaine, containers were filled with wine, paperboard, vegetable extracts and dried nuts from all over the world.

They were destined for Ireland, Nigeria, South Africa, Lebanon, India and Haiti, officials said.

Records show the MSC Gayane previously stopped in the Bahamas on June 13, Panama on June 9 and May 24, and Colombia on May 19. 

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