Banana boat's secret cargo: $2 million in coke

26 packages of cocaine found by customs inspectors on a Dole cargo ship at the Port of Wilmington on June 6, 2010.
26 packages of cocaine found by customs inspectors on a Dole cargo ship at the Port of Wilmington on June 6, 2010. (Peter Mucha)
Posted: June 14, 2010

While inspecting a container of bananas at the Port of Wilmington, customs agents discovered two brick-like objects hidden in the ventilation system.

Then they found two dozen more.

Inside those bundles were about 63 pounds of cocaine with a street value estimated at about $2 million, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The seizure was made June 6 by tactical operations officers from Wilmington and Philadelphia.

The refrigerated container was aboard the M/V Dole Chile, part of the Western Hemisphere fleet of produce giant Dole.

The cocaine-carrying container was picked up at one of the ship's regular stops - Colombia, Costa Rica or Honduras, said CBP spokesman Steve Sapp, who declined to specify which one.

"It's not unusual for generally law-abiding international transportation companies to become unwitting victims of narcotics traffickers," said Allan Martocci, CBP port director for the Area Port of Philadelphia.

"One of the keys to combating narcotics networks is to disrupt their transportation and distribution routes, and this seizure effectively eliminates one potential route," Martocci said.

The ship also routinely stops in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., before arriving at the Port of Wilmington, the "world's largest banana hub," as well as "the nation's leading gateway for imports of fresh fruit, and juice concentrate," according to the port's website.

The contraband was turned over to agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which will continue the investigation with the Drug Enforcement Administration and other law-enforcement groups.

CBP inspectors look for everything from agricultural pests and merchandise knock-offs to threats to national security.


Contact staff writer Peter Mucha at 215-854-4342 or pmucha@phillynews.com.

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