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Italy Seizes Greek Shipping Giant’s Vessel Loaded With Cocaine

Italy Seizes Greek Shipping Giant’s Vessel Loaded With Cocaine

Italian authorities in Venice found some 850 kg of cocaine on a ship belonging to the well-known Greek shipowner Panagiotis Laskaridis.

Skyfrost, a Greek-registered reefer, along side the Russian reefer Pamyat Ilicha, at Discovery Bay, Antarctica. Photo: Greenpeace/Paul Hilton

Italian authorities, after searching a Greek-owned vessel in Venice, found a large amount of cocaine, some 850 kg, worth about 150 million euros.

Trade Winds, which specializes in shipping, reported that the ship, the Atlas, which is under a Liberian flag, belongs to the Laskaridis Shipping company of the well-known Greek shipowner Panagiotis Laskaridis.

Italian authorities began their investigations on April 18. The drugs were packed in 570 packages weighing 850 kg. The packages were found in the vessel’s hull area beneath the waterline, commonly known as the “sea chest”.

According to Trade Winds, the ship remains in the port of Venice, where it arrived on April 17; it left Brazil on March 23. So far, none of the seafarers have been arrested.

Trade Winds said container ships are often targeted for drug smuggling and used by gangs without the knowledge of ship crews and owners.

Contacted by BIRN on Friday, Laskaridis Shipping said it is collaborating with the Italian authorities after the discovery of possible smuggled goods, believed to be cocaine, at the ship’s sea inlet, about 11 meters below the waterline. It added that the sea inlet is a part of the vessel which is not accessible to the crew and can only be accessed by divers.

“The crew cooperated fully with the competent authorities during the preliminary investigations. The competent police and prosecuting authorities found that neither the ship nor the crew were involved in any way in the relevant incident,” said Laskaridis Shipping.

Meanwhile, the Italian authorities allowed the ship to continue its commercial activities.

Last month, Europol in partnership with the ports of Rotterdam, Antwerp, and Hamburg/Bremerhaven issued a report about criminal networks in EU ports. It estimated that at least 200 tonnes of cocaine have been trafficked through the ports of Antwerp and Rotterdam in the last few years.

One of the new methods criminal networks use is misappropriated container reference codes, also known as PIN code fraud. Corrupted logistics company employees provide the drug smugglers with a reference code and a driver to pick up the container with the reference code. There is no need for physical presence within the port area.

The Laskaridis family is mostly known in Greece for its charitable activities regarding environmental protection.

However, a BIRN investigation raised concerns over the Laskaridis shipping company’s environmental practices. A Laskaridis reefer called Avunda spent a month in the protected waters of Antarctica. Reefers have a high failure rate in port inspections and dominate so-called transhipping, the practice of transferring a catch from one vessel to another, usually from a fishing ship to a reefer. The practice is closely monitored in port, but not so much far offshore, where illegal catches can be concealed.

In October 2019 inspectors registered 11 violations by the Avunda including concerns over its air pollution certificate and oil filtering equipment. The following year, Greenpeace flagged the Avunda in a report detailing the dangers reefers pose to the highly sensitive waters of Antarctica.

The Laskaridis brothers deny having anything to do with illegal cargo and say the faults found by inspectors are minor and are rectified.

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