On 12th July, American Shipper published a very useful Commentary, in the light of the seizure of the large container ship (apparently owned by JP Morgan Chase, and operated by MSC) in Philadelphia after a large cocaine shipment was discovered. The article sets out to provide some insight regarding the relevant perspective of the US government involved in such cases, and the possible exposure of vessels to forfeiture by the US government should they be found to contain large quantities of illegal narcotics or in violation of other US laws. The Maritime Drug Law Enforcement Act (MDLEA) makes it illegal to possess with the intent to distribute illegal narcotics on a vessel covered under the Act (including any foreign vessel while in US waters). Under the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention & Control Act any a aircraft, vehicles or vessels, which are used, or intended for use, to transport, or in any manner to facilitate the transportation, sale, receipt, possession or concealment of controlled substances are subject to seizure and forfeiture. If the forfeiture is sought in civil actions then an “innocent owner” may have a defence. The situation is different if it is a criminal case, where the issue of actual forfeiture only arises after a criminal conviction (though, obviously, the vessel has been, and remains, seized). Following conviction, the government has to prove the connection between the offence and the property to be forfeited.
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