Jack Marrian charged
Jack Marrian, flanked by a police officer denies he knew anything about drugs shipment AFP/Getty Images

Jack Marrian, a Nairobi-based commodities trader and grandson of the 25th Thane of Cawdor, had no idea he was unwittingly playing a role in the smuggling of the largest shipment of cocaine—estimated at £4.5m—ever seized in Kenya.

Marrian, who faces a life sentence if found guilty, had no knowledge that the drugs had been hidden in a container load of Brazilian sugar, his lawyers have said.

"He should never have been charged," said Sheetal Kapila, Marrian's lawyer. "It's a disgrace that he was arrested."

His lawyers also told the Mail on Sunday that Marrian is a "fall guy" and that authorities failed to investigate people who would have had access to the shipment while it was at sea.

According to the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), the cocaine was loaded in Santos Port, Brazil, onto a container ship owned by the Geneva-based Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC).

They claim it was stowed using a smuggling technique called 'blind hook' or 'rip-on, rip-off', in which smugglers hide their drugs inside other people's cargo.

The container concealing the cocaine was transferred to another ship at Valencia, its first port of call. The next leg of the journey took the shipment to Oman, before it was moved onto the Kenya-bound ship.

"A criminal gang based in Valencia tried to get the cocaine out of the container but failed," said Melvin Patterson of the DEA.

"The Spanish stressed this was a rip-off load and the recipient of the container would have no knowledge it was being used to transport drugs."

Mr Marrian told the Mail on Sunday: "I had zero understanding of how drugs gangs operate and I still cannot perceive of an internationally organised gang being able to infiltrate and exploit legitimate trade like ours."

Spanish police tried to search the containers, but four, including the one containing the cocaine, had been loaded onto the next ship. Spanish police sources said: "When we received information that the containers could have drugs in them, the ship bound for Mombasa had already left Valencia Port.

"We were able to inspect some we had suspicions about, which were still in Valencia Port, but not others. The information we were given was the traffickers had used the "Gancho Ciego" [blind hook] tactic.

"This involves the use of someone else's container to transport an illegal cargo which the company transporting it, the firm or people sending it and those due to receive it don't have any idea of what's inside.

"It's one of the most commonly-used techniques among traffickers smuggling drugs by sea and a tactic that is used in South America as well as across Europe. Traffickers could simulate the use of "Gancho Ciego", but by its very definition it's a practice the registered suppliers and receivers of goods are in the dark about."

The "rip-on, rip-off" technique was perfected at the Calabrian port of Gioia Tauro through which some 80% of Europe's cocaine is supposedly arrive.

Gioia Tauro port
The port of Gioia Tauro REUTERS/Ciro De Luca

The organised crime syndicate known as the 'Ndrangheta controls the flow of cocaine through the port and makes extensive use of the technique in its activities.

According to a dock worker who spoke to Al-Jazeera under condition of anonymity, "It's nearly impossible for authorities to find out what is going on.

"There are just too many containers coming and going, and the 'Ndrangheta's influence is strong despite the work of the authorities."

In 2014, the 'Ndrangheta was estimated to have made billions of euros from its share of the drug market, putting it's value ahead of that of Deutsche Bank and McDonald's, with an estimated turnover of €53bn (£44bn).

Elber Justo, managing director of MSC Brazil told the Sunday Times that the container company was "naturally concerned" about an increase in "rip-on, rip-off" practices and was co-operating fully with authorities. He said drug seizures at Santos port had been six times higher in 2016 than the same period last year.

MSC added that Kenyan authorities "did not at the time, nor subsequently, find any evidence of wrongdoing by the vessel's crew".

It confirmed that the container seal fixed in Brazil by the shipper "was intact upon discharge and delivery in Kenya".

Marrian's mother is Lady Emma Campbell, daughter of the 6th Earl Cawdor while his father, David, is an artist who settled in Kenya. Marrian attended the same prep school as Chris Froome, the Kenyan-born cyclist, before boarding at Marlborough College and Bristol University.