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#4128: Cargo of cocaine found in freighter on Miami River (fwd)


Published Wednesday, June 7, 2000, in the Miami Herald 
 Cargo of cocaine found in freighter on Miami River BY ELAINE DE VALLE 

 U.S. Customs investigators on Tuesday found nothing but cocaine as
cargo aboard a 150-foot freighter, the Miss Shandy Express, the ninth
vessel since February busted on the Miami River after leaving a Haitian
port. The Miss Shandy Express, a blue-and-yellow freighter flagged in
Honduras, left from Port-de-Paix on Thursday and arrived Monday night.
U.S. Customs agents boarded it Tuesday morning and found more than 500
pounds of cocaine in color-coded balloons in one of the ballast tanks,
usually filled with water to keep the vessel level.

 Street value: about $4 million wholesale.

 Customs spokesman Zach Mann said the agency was committing much of its
 resources to the Miami River. ``Since we've seen an increase in the
cocaine traffic from Haiti and, typically, Haitians use the Miami River,
it's definitely something we're paying attention to.'' About 6,000
pounds have been seized off 12 ships originating from Haiti since
 November, Mann said. Tuesday's 536 pounds were found on the ship --
docked at Raul Terminal, 3001 NW South River Dr. -- hidden in welded
sections of the tank, said Special Agent in Charge Frank Figueroa.
``They went through extensive welding to make the three compartments.''
 But Customs agents are getting better at knowing where to look,
Figueroa said. ``We're on a campaign to put a stop to smuggling along
the Miami River,'' he said. ``We have a special task force to deal with
vessels departing from Haiti. We suspect every vessel coming in. We have
to take that approach. We have investigators, some of the best
investigators, whose only task is to investigate river smuggling.''
 They'll keep using the approach as long as it works, Figueroa said.
 Out of 14 vessels targeted for inspection since February, nine have
wielded a cocaine cargo. ``Seizures are up 200 percent already this year
over 1999,'' Figueroa said. Sometimes agents get information from
suspects who ``flip'' to get reduced charges or more lenient sentences.
Sources say that was what happened last week when Customs seized 180
pounds from the Sarah V. A source who led them to five vessels
confiscated in February continued to give them good information.
 But investigators also do surveillance and make contacts with people
involved in the drug world as well as the legitimate businesses along
the river, Figueroa said. ``When there's a drug-laden vessel making its
way up the river, there's a lot of activity on the street. Like strange
vehicles coming in at odd hours of the night. What's happening is people
are getting ready for the arrival. Somebody has to be there to unload.
Somebody has to be the lookout.'' After they counted the kilos late
Tuesday afternoon, agents would enter the next phase of the
investigation: trying to determine the intended recipient. They will
 interview the 10-member crew of the Miss Shandy, but it was still
unknown if any knew about the cargo and would face criminal charges,
Figueroa said. Agents will also gather more evidence, like taking
fingerprints off the packages. ``Sometimes, the telltale sign is the
wrapping,'' he said, noting that the red, orange and blue balloons were
typical of Colombian smugglers.