MSC has strongly rejected a report that it was “infiltrated” by drug smugglers involved in the $1bn cocaine bust on the containership MSC Gayane in Philadelphia port in 2019.

In statement on a 16 December story by Bloomberg the Geneva-headquartered company said: “MSC strongly objects to Bloomberg headline claim that the subversion of a small number of seafarers from Montenegro, in what remain very specific circumstances amounts to the “company” being “infiltrated” by a drugs cartel.” The article claims MSC had become a conduit for Balkan drug smuggling gangs.

MSC said the majority of its Montenegro crew were honest, hardworking and good at their jobs and noted all MSC contractors passed through a “robust vetting procedure” including the

The company said: “While MSC’s precautionary response to the Gayane drug seizure was to reallocate its Montenegrin contractors away from shipping routes that are most vulnerable to drugs trafficking,

the company takes issue with the article’s overall characterization of one country’s maritime workforce based on the emergence of a tiny minority of criminals among them.

“Unfortunately, there will always be individuals who can be corrupted by drugs traffickers – _or, even more difficult to predict, decent people who will succumb to violent threats by dangerous criminals against them and their families. This is a human factor which is impossible for individual companies to control entirely.”

MSC stated the surging cocaine trade was an industry wide issue involving all modes of transport. It described the MSC Gayane incident as a “wake-up call for the entire container shipping and logistics industry, given the elaborate nature of the underlying criminal activity”.

Since the incident in 2019 MSC said it had intensified its security efforts investing “far in excess” of $50m in 2022.

“In fact, there are now more than 50 different ways in which MSC seeks to detect potential illicit activity across major trade lanes, including state-of-the-art and proprietary technology based on artificial intelligence, in close cooperation with law enforcement bodies,” the shipping company said.

“The global drugs trade is a systemic problem that no single company can address alone. From the sources of production to the consumers who drive demand, everybody in the supply chain must seek to play their part, to help law enforcement, customs and port authorities to better control the issue.”

The MSC Gayane was detained in Philadelphia on 17 June 2019 when law enforcement officials found nearly 20 tons of cocaine, worth an estimated $1.3bn, on board the vessel and number of crew members were arrested for their role in the smuggling operation. Eight seafarers from the vessel pleaded guilty in the drugs smuggling conspiracy, five Montenegro national, two Samoans, and a Serbian national.