SHIPPING: Filipino crew awaiting outcome of Mexico drugs bust

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Nineteen Filipinos and three Polish seafarers of a Cyprus-flagged bulk carrier have been detained in Mexico after 225 kilos of cocaine was found on board the ship and are awaiting the outcome of a police investigation to determine if they will be charged with drug trafficking.

The 32,000 tonne UBC Savannah owned by Limassol-based Athena Marine, departed from Barranquilla, Colombia, on July 23, and docked at Altamira port in the Gulf of Mexico five days later.

Reports said during inspection, 227 packages of suspected cocaine weighing 225 kilos were found stashed away, hidden in a cargo hold buried in ore rock minerals.

The Philippine Star reported that the Philippine embassy in Mexico informed the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) in Manila that the 22 seafarers of the UBC Savannah were being held for allegedly violating Mexico’s drug law.

Embassy representatives were able to speak with seven of the 19 detained Filipinos.

“The group is in good spirits. They told embassy representatives that their families have been informed about the matter,” the DFA said.

The embassy is coordinating with both the Mexican authorities and the law firm representing the seafarers.

“At this point, no formal charges have been filed against any seafarer,” the DFA said, adding the Philippine government is ready to help the Filipinos, including legal assistance if necessary.

“However, should they be found guilty by the court of any charges that will be filed against them, they have to face the legal consequences of their actions,” DFA said.

Limassol-based ship-management company Intership Navigation issued a statement confirming the detention of the vessel and arrest of the crewmembers, saying “the drugs were first detected and reported to local authorities by ship’s command.”

“The cargo was loaded in Barranquilla, Colombia with shore grabs and stevedores.

“In line with our stringent policies, ISPS measures were elevated in Barranquilla and several drug searches (holds, deck, superstructure and underwater) were carried out – but did not reveal anything. At this point in time we have no reason to believe that any of our crew were involved in the drug trafficking.”

Intership added that managers and crew were fully cooperating with local authorities to investigate the matter, whilst the company “is supporting our crew in this difficult situation.”