Authorities seized 147 pounds of cocaine hidden inside a shipping container full of lumber at the port of Baltimore, officials announced Friday.
The discovery — aided by cargo scanning technology — is the largest cocaine seizure in Baltimore since 2007, when authorities found more than 300 pounds inside a refrigerated shipping container from Ecuador, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. In December 2013, customs officers found 128 pounds of cocaine in two duffel bags inside a container from Panama.
The latest discovery occurred Aug. 4, when officers conducting a routine inspection found anomalies in the stacks of lumber in a container from Brazil, authorities said.
The officers found two gym bags with 57 bricks of a white powdery substance that authorities said tested positive for cocaine. Authorities estimate it is worth more than $4 million.
The amount is large for Baltimore, but a drop in the bucket compared with drug seizures elsewhere, such as along the nation's southwestern border, said Stephen Sapp, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Baltimore is "not a typical route for drugs to arrive into the U.S.," he said.
Dianna Bowman, the agency's area director for the port of Baltimore, said, "Narcotics interdiction remains a top Customs and Border Protection enforcement priority, and this case illustrates how CBP officers leverage nonintrusive imaging technologies to intercept dangerous drugs and to help keep our communities safe."
The scanning technology used to discover the cocaine is "sort of like an X-ray," Sapp said. It can detect anomalies in containers, such as items with unusual density or shapes.
"Wood has a very distinct shape," Sapp said. "The bricks [of drugs] are not designed in that shape. So we can see there's a different shape inside that container that is not consistent with the shape of wood."
The technology also was used in the 2013 seizure at the port. The machine spotted an anomaly amid the boxes of auto parts in the container from Colon, Panama, and authorities found two gym bags with a combined 50 bricks of cocaine.
Sapp said he did not know whether arrests had been made in the most recent case.
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After a drug seizure by Customs and Border Protection, an investigation is typically turned over to Homeland Security Investigations, whose officials work with other federal agencies as well as state and local police, Sapp said.
He said the cocaine might have originated somewhere other than Brazil.
"Just because it left from Brazil doesn't mean it was actually manufactured in Brazil," Sapp said. "Just because we stopped it here doesn't mean that [Baltimore] was its final destination."