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#1228: Concealed cocaine sniffed out aboard Haitian boats in Miami (fwd)


Published Saturday, November 27, 1999, in the Miami Herald 
 Concealed cocaine sniffed out aboard Haitian boats in Miami

 U.S. Customs agents on the Miami River have seized 1,488 pounds of
cocaine hidden inside two cargo freighters that came from the coastal
town of Cap Haitien in northern Haiti. Investigators said the Biak and
the Sylvina Express II, both searched and seized on Wednesday, are but
the latest in a string of cocaine-laden vessels from Haiti discovered on
Miami's waterways in recent months. ``As long as Haiti is being used as
a transshipment point [for illegal drugs], we're going to have a problem
in Miami,'' said Frank Figueroa, special agent in charge of the Customs
Service in Miami. None of boats' combined 14 crew members were arrested.
Investigators are seeking evidence to prove which crew members, if any,
knew about the cocaine, Figueroa said. Agents also are trying to link
the latest shipments to each other and to earlier cocaine boats. Acting
on an anonymous tip, Customs brought in drug dogs that alerted
 inspectors to one of the masts of the Sylvina Express II, which had
docked at the Sea Terminal, 2974 NW North River Dr. Cutting through the
half-inch-thick steel of both masts, law officers found 832 pounds of
cocaine in plastic-wrapped bricks.


 ``In the aft mast, the cocaine was stacked from the upper deck up the
mast,'' Figueroa said. ``Yet in the fore mast, it was stacked 15 feet
below deck. That's an interesting technique, because if we hadn't
drilled both above and below deck, chances are we wouldn't have gotten
the entire load.'' The Sylvina Express II had seven crew members: five
Haitians and two Guyanese. Investigators were researching the vessel's
 Figueroa said the tipster -- who called a Customs number at Miami
International Airport -- would have been entitled to a reward if he had
called 800-BE-ALERT, a special Customs tip line. Unlike the Sylvina
Express II, inspectors had prior information that the Biak might enter
port with cocaine, so it was put under surveillance on the chance that
crew members could be caught offloading the drugs, Figueroa said.

 When that didn't happen, Customs dogs pointed inspectors to the ship's
cargo hold, where 656 pounds of plastic-wrapped cocaine were found in a
hidden compartment. The Drug Enforcement Administration and the Broward
Sheriff's Office assisted.


 Inspectors do not think it was a coincidence that the Biak docked at
Island Shipping, 3600 NW North River Dr. Customs agents seized two prior
shipments of cocaine there this year, both from boats originating in Cap
Haitien. They were named the D Only One and the Only One Express.
 ``Right now, it appears there might be some connection between the
three,'' Figueroa said of the vessels with cocaine. Customs also has
seized Island Shipping, he said. The Biak had seven crew members: four
Haitians, one Colombian, one Guyanese and an English-speaking captain
whose citizenship had not been determined. Investigators were
researching the vessel's ownership. Figueroa said he ``suspects there's
some correlation'' between the Biak and the Sylvina Express II. To be
sure, investigators will check the seized cocaine packages for
fingerprints and compare the color, size, shape and wrapping
 materials of the bricks. At the Miami seaport during the fiscal year
that ended September 1999, Customs reported seizing 19,367 pounds of
cocaine; 18.4 pounds of heroin; 7,935 pounds of marijuana; and 214
pounds of hashish.