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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,''
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
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