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Drug Wars – NOT Trade Wars – & CTPAT 

Who’s got a ship worth $90 million with the capacity to hold 10,000 containers that’s ready to set sail from Philadelphia to Europe? Not so fast, Mediterranean Shipping Co. (MSC).

U.S. authorities seized the Gayane, a large container ship operated by Switzerland-based MSC, three weeks after customs authorities found 20 tons of cocaine on the vessel. The seizure of a vessel this massive is complicated and unprecedented. (Remember when that word had meaning?) When you’re dealing with that much cocaine and ship that’s owned by J.P. Morgan Asset Management and chartered by MSC, the world’s second-biggest container ship operator, you’re going to shake things up.

The Gayane was raided on June 17 by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents who found about 20 tons of cocaine with a street value of $1.3 billion stashed in several containers. Eight crew members from Serbia and Samoa were arrested and several have been charged in the case. The ship’s second officer and another crew member were also charged with helping bring the cocaine aboard the vessel.  Talk about an inside job!

The Gayane was the second MSC ship raided in Philadelphia this year. In March, federal agents discovered nearly 1,200 pounds of cocaine on board the MSC Desiree. While 1,200 pounds is nothing to sniff at, this latest bust is over 30 times the amount found on the MSC Desiree.

What’s C-TPAT?

C-TPAT was launched in 2001 and is a voluntary supply-chain security program led by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). It’s program focused on improving the security of private companies’ supply chains with respect to terrorism. Companies in the C-TPAT program are considered ‘low risk’ and receive a ton of benefits. These range from expedited processing of their cargo, fewer customs examinations, access to the Free and Secure Trade (FAST) Lanes at the land borders and more! It’s a little bit like TSA PreCheck but for shipping companies

Too many TONS… 

Twenty tons of cocaine with a street value – ‘cause you know, we’re hip like that – of $1.3 billion! Wowee! That’s insane, but which ‘ton’ are these reports referring to? Spoiler: it’s the US ton.

You know there’s more than one type of ton, right? There’s the British ton, AKA the ‘long ton’, AKA 2240 pounds and there’s the US ton, AKA the ‘short ton’ AKA 2000 pounds. Long? Short? But tons measure weight, not length! It’s a complicated mess that only gets more confusing the more you look into it.

Both tons are actually defined in the same way. One ton is equal to 20 ‘hundredweight’. It’s a definition of the hundredweight that differs. In the US, there are 100 pounds in the hundredweight. Makes sense. It’s the British hundredweight where things get a little screwy. There are 112 pounds in the British hundredweight. Ugh! This is because 700 years ago King Edward III wanted the hundredweight to be equal to 8 stone and for a stone to weigh 14 pounds. 8 x 14 = 112. Why the hundredweight is 8 stone, we’ll never know. This causes the actual weight of a ton to differ between countries. So they went with the ‘long’ and ‘short’ ton to delineate.

Before you get too comfortable, there’s also a third type of ton: the metric ton. The metric ton is equal to 1000 kilograms (approximately 2204 pounds). Now, let’s muddy up these waters, even more, the metric ton is officially called a ‘tonne’. The International System of Units calls it tonne, but the U.S. Government recommends calling it metric ton.

Calling out which ‘ton’ these reporters are referring to might seem silly but when you’re talking about a difference of 4,800 pounds of cocaine, it’s significant.

Anyway, back to drugs!

Drugs aren’t just getting smuggled in through large shipping containers, they’re in the mail!

California courts charged over 40 people for violating the US drug and money-laundering laws as part of a multi-state methamphetamine distribution ring. How did they get these drugs across the border? They mailed them through FedEx and the US Postal Service.

Due to its high potency, drugs like fentanyl can be brought across the border in small quantities, making them difficult to catch. FYI: A kilo of fentanyl wholesales for about $80,000 and can fetch about $1.6 million on the street. That is quite the markup.

Drugs are also coming in on boats that aren’t massive container ships. Videos of drug smugglers desperately dumping huge bags of cocaine into the sea during a high-speed chase in the eastern Pacific with the US Coast Guard have made the rounds on social media. The chase and apprehension of the vessel were but one part of an operation netting over 26,000 pounds valued at $350 million. They also went back to pick up the cocaine thrown overboard.

The sad truth is that smugglers will always find ways of getting drugs across the border. This recent $1.3 billion dollar bust and the others in the hundreds of millions will likely have politicians urging customs and border protection agencies beef up inspections. This could lead to delays and slower movements of cargo through US ports unless you ship with companies that have a C-TPAT certificate.