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To all the awkwardness that his shipping empire has brought Prime Minister Paul Martin, add the embarrassment of being a drug mule.

The day after his re-election this week, Canadian customs agents discovered a stash of cocaine hidden at the bottom of a Canada Steamship Lines coal carrier, one named after Mr. Martin's wife.

Drug smugglers apparently used underwater divers to plant the drug without the knowledge of the crew of the bulk cargo ship Sheila Ann during a stop in Venezuela.

The 83 kilograms of cocaine was discovered in a routine inspection after the ship arrived in Sydney, N.S.

"This is the first time that this type of incident has happened on one of our ships," said Martine Malka, CSL's director of corporate communications.

"Naturally, the company has zero tolerance for drugs. We'll take steps to make sure this won't happen again."

She said the packages must have been concealed while the Sheila Ann was at its last port of call before Sydney: Maracaibo, Venezuela, where it picked up a load of low-sulfur coal.

No charges are expected against the crew or the shipping company. The vessel was allowed to leave Sydney.

"This is not uncommon for a legit company to be exploited by organized crime when it comes to the movement of contraband," said Michel Proulx, a spokesman for the Canada Border Services Agency.

An underwater camera spotted the cocaine. Divers were then sent in to retrieve it.

The two drug packages were hidden in an underwater compartment sealed with a grate. Normally the compartment is used to allow seawater to enter to cool the vessel's engines.

Whoever planted the cocaine would have had to unscrew, then replace, four bolts holding the grate, Ms. Malka said.

The bolts will now be welded on CSL ships, she said. The company will also hire divers to inspect its ships when they use South American ports.

Since August of 2003, control of the company has been transferred to Mr. Martin's three sons, Paul W., David and James.

It wasn't immediately clear how pure the cocaine was or how much it was worth.

Evidence in recent trafficking trials show that in cities such as Montreal, a kilo of cocaine sells at the wholesale level for as much as $50,000.

The shipment found on the Sheila Ann could therefore be worth several million dollars, especially since it would be adulterated before it was sold at street level.

Mr. Martin's director of communications, Mario Laguë, said the Prime Minister's Office had no comment to make on the incident.

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