Philadelphia lawyers explore ins and outs of cocaine laden vessel forfeiture
THE prospect of having a mega ship confiscated for carrying illicit cargo is the very real possible fate of the 11,660-TEU MSC Gayane after US Customs seized 16 tons of cocaine aboard her in the Port of Philadelphia
THE prospect of having a mega ship confiscated for carrying illicit cargo is the very real possible fate of the 11,660-TEU MSC Gayane after US Customs seized 16 tons of cocaine aboard her in the Port of Philadelphia.
Lawyers Nicole Phillips, Eric Chang and Wook Chung, of Philadelphia's Montgomery McCracken Walker & Rhoads explained under what circumstances - civil and criminal - that a ship can be seized after being found carrying contraband.
'The owner of the MSC Gayane reports it has been told that it is not the target of the government's criminal investigation, and is cooperating with the government and is seeking to regain the certification of its C-TPAT compliance,' the lawyers said in an article posted.
'We would like to shed some insight to our clients regarding the relevant perspective of the government involved in cases like this - namely the possible exposure of your vessels to forfeiture by the US government should they be found to contain large quantities of illegal narcotics or in violation of other US laws.
'While there is no suggestion that the MSC Gayane owners knew of the illegal drugs that had been smuggled aboard the ship, when a cargo ship is found to contain large quantities of illegal drugs, US law deems that vessel to have been used to facilitate this crime, therefore, making it subject to possible forfeiture by the US Government.
'Is an 'innocent owner' defence available? Possibly. If the government is seeking civil forfeiture of the vessel, the law states that 'an innocent owner's interest in property shall not be forfeited under any civil forfeiture statute'.'
But the claimant has to prove that they are innocent and had no knowledge of the illegal conduct on the vessel or upon learning of the illegal conduct, the 'innocent owner' did everything reasonably possible under the circumstances to stop it.
'Thus, this defence may not work if the court determines the owner was 'wilfully blind' to the illegal conduct occurring on the ship,' they said.
'While the outcome of a civil or criminal forfeiture action by the US government may ultimately be favourable for shipowners, they should still keep in mind that their vessel may be seized and held by the government until the phases of the processes are complete,' they said.