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#2213: Miami customs seize cocaine from Haitian ships (fwd)


Miami customs seize cocaine from Haitian ships

MIAMI, Feb 7 (Reuters) - Standing at times knee-deep in water, oil and 
sludge, Miami customs agents dug to the bottom of several Haitian freighters 
in the last week, finding nearly 3,000 pounds of cocaine, officials said on 

U.S. Customs Service, FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officials 
told a news conference that the drugs, with a street value in Florida of $23 
million, were found in concealed compartments in four of nine vessels from 
Haiti searched on the Miami River since Jan. 29. 

The last of the cocaine haul, 961 pounds (436 kg), was recovered on Monday 
from a compartment in the keel of one of the freighters, an offshore supply 
vessel called the ``Hardness.'' The find brought the total to 2,976 pounds 
(1,350 kg), a U.S. Customs spokesman said. 

The vessel was in dry dock and like the other three vessels where cocaine was 
found, had been confiscated by the Customs Service. 

``This was a really sophisticated way of smuggling,'' said Frank Figueroa, 
the special agent in charge in the Miami customs service. 

``In the last three years Haiti has been one of the largest transshipment 
points (for drugs) ... Seizures like this make the problem crystal clear,'' 
he said. 

The search, led by dozens of Customs Service agents with help from the 
Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Coast Guard and local police, was part 
of a wider investigation into drug smuggling from the Caribbean country to 
the Miami area begun in 1998. The cocaine was thought to have come from 

Officials said there had been no arrests connected to the drug seizures, 
largely due to the difficulty of proving individual crew members knew the 
cocaine was on board. 

But the FBI said a person believed to be behind the smuggling operation had 
been indicted in the United States and authorities were in the process of 
seeking her extradition from Haiti. The suspect was named as Fouana 

Customs officials said they would continue to take a close look at vessels 
from Haiti docking on the Miami River. 

Figueroa said officials became suspicious of freighters from Haiti partly 
because it was hard to see how some of the ships -- which travel to Miami to 
load up with goods for Haiti such as rice, beans, cooking oil, used cars, 
clothes and bicycles but arrive in the United States empty -- could be making 
a profit. 

Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, has increasingly become what drug 
enforcement officials call a transshipment point for trafficking to the 
United States, meaning drugs pass through from a third country such as