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More Than 6,700 Pounds Of Cocaine Seized In Miami Boatyard

December 21, 1988

MIAMI (AP) _ More than 6,700 pounds of cocaine with a street value of $50 million was seized aboard two arriving freighters that U.S. Customs agents said Tuesday were intended to supply Christmas customers.

″We had a little Christmas party,″ Customs spokesman Michael Sheehan said of the five-day operation that resulted in one of the largest cocaine busts in U.S. history.

The latest seizure came Tuesday after U.S. Customs agents spent the weekend staking out the Panamanian-registered freighter Santo Domingo Express. Agents acting on a tip watched the ship arrive from the northern coast of Colombia and dock at the Miami River, Sheehan said.

On Monday, after no one came to unload the cocaine and the captain tried to leave port, agents boarded and seized the vessel, Sheehan said.

After a 30-hour search, agents cut through a secret compartment in a ballast tank and found the Christmas cocaine - 4,792 pounds of it numbered, marked and stuffed into duffel bags.

″This shipment was designed to be brought in during the holiday season,″ Woodrow Kirk, a Customs agent, told NBC News.

Only the captain was on the ship at the time of the seizure, Sheehan said, and he was arrested on smuggling charges. His name was not immediately available.

Last Thursday, Customs agents making a similar surveillance on the Miami River boarded a Haitian freighter and discovered 1,941 pounds of cocaine concealed inside a fuel tank, also stuffed inside duffel bags.

Three Colombian nationals seen driving away from the Haitian freighter Cha Cha were arrested, as was a member of its crew, also a Colombian national, Sheehan said.

Both freighters were seized in the raids and initial evidence led agents to believe the two seizures totaling 6,733 pounds, with a street value of $50 million, are related, Sheehan said. He refused to elaborate.

The largest previous single cocaine seizure in the United States was 9,230 pounds seized from inside a shipment of lumber at the Port of Tampa on April 28. Prior to that, the largest seizure was 8,700 pounds found stuffed inside hollowed picnic boards delivered to Port Everglades near Fort Lauderdale in November 1987.

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