Seven MSC Cruises crew members were arrested on charges of smuggling cocaine into the U.S. at PortMiami earlier this month.
Customs and Border Protection found six crew members with a total of 17 pounds of cocaine on their bodies or in their cabins during a K9 drug sweep of the MSC Seaside on Nov. 17, according to court filings. Another employee, Damion Hawthorne, 32, was arrested on charges of hiring five of the crew members into the smuggling operation.
Federal prosecutors said Hawthorne recruited Londiwe Shange, 27, Wandile Mhlongo, 29, Thembeka Sokhulu, 36, and Viwe Tshaka, 23, all from South Africa, to pick up drugs when Seaside was docked at the port in Jamaica and deliver them to someone in Miami. Shange, Mhlongo and Sokhulu told investigators they had been earning around $2,000 for each run over the past couple of months, according to court flings. Tshaka said Nov. 17 was her first time making a run.
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CBP officers found 2.2 pounds of cocaine in each the backpacks of Errol Roy Sutherland, 39, and Carl Michael Smith, 27, according to court filings. Sutherland told officers that a childhood friend from Jamaica had given him the backpack in September to deliver to someone in Miami. Smith said he’d been making runs for about four months.
All seven people are being held on $250,000 bond; their arraignments are scheduled for Dec. 3 in Miami federal court.
Alyssa Goldfarb, a spokesperson for MSC Cruises, said all crew members are patted down when they exit and enter the ship at PortMiami. MSC also contracts a private security company to conduct dog-sniffing checks of the ship at the port, she said.