- US customs officials seized a JPMorgan-funded container ship this week after authorities found nearly 18 tonnes of cocaine in the ship with an estimated $ 1.3 billion in road value. MSC Gayane is surprising for several reasons.
- The sheer amount of cocaine it carried, its ties to JPMorgan, its presence in the US, and the latest line of West African drug busts are worth mentioning.
] A JPMorgan-funded container ship was seized by US Customs officials this week after authorities found nearly 1
The Sheer Amount of Cocaine
REUTERS / Thomas Mukoya
About 39,500 pounds or 17.9 tons of cocaine – about the same weight as three African elephant bulls – found aboard the MSC Gayane outweighed that United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the total amount of cocaine that flowed through West Africa in 2013 and all cocaine confiscated across Africa between 2013 and 2016.
The enormous amount could reflect a supply glut. According to the World Drug Report 2018, global cocaine production increased by a quarter in 2016 to 1,410 tonnes. The production boom is concentrated in Colombia, where cultivation of coca plant increased by 17% to 171,000 hectares in 2017, according to UNODC.  The Connection to JPMorgan
The connection between MSC Gayane and JPMorgan is perhaps the most surprising aspect of the drug shortage.
The MSC Gayane is operated by the Swiss-based Mediterranean Shipping Co. However, JPMorgan helped finance the purchase of the boat through MSC. The pair reportedly structured the purchase so that the boat was owned by client assets of a transportation strategy fund operated for JPMorgan's asset management arm Insider.
The Liberian Connection
Flickr / jmoneyyyyyyy
The MSC Gayane sailed under the flag of Liberia, a West African country. West Africa is a popular transit route for smugglers between South America and Europe due to its porous borders, weak rule of law, largely unsupervised coastline and limited infrastructure and resources. West Africa's contribution to cocaine protection in Africa rose to 78% in 2016, "reflecting the rapidly growing importance of West Africa as a transit area".
However, there seems to be little drug smuggling between West Africa and the US, which makes the bust of MSC Gayane highly unusual. Higher street prices and a lower risk of being caught make Europe a more lucrative and attractive market than the US, Nigerian drug trafficker Chigbo Umeh told The Guardian in 2015.
The connection to the drug smuggling boom in West Africa
AP Photo / Matt Rourke
Drug search on a Liberian-flagged vessel is the latest in a series of serious seizures that have been linked to West African countries this year.
In May 2018, Algerian officials confiscated more than 1,500 pounds of cocaine on a Liberia-registered container ship that, according to the BBC, transported frozen meat from Brazil. In February this year, Cape Verdean officials found 21,000 pounds of cocaine worth more than $ 700 million on a ship under the Panamanian flag. A month later, in Guinea-Bissau, the Guinea-Bissau authorities killed their biggest cocaine bust of all time – and the first in a decade – when they discovered nearly 800 kilograms or more than 1,700 pounds of the drug in a false bottom of a fish-laden truck were hidden.
"There was some doubt as to whether West Africa is still being used as an important transit route, but these seizures seem to indicate that there is a return," said Mark Shaw, director of the Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime, in an interview Bloomberg. "It's a surprise and very significant."