US Coast Guard makes nearly two-ton Caribbean coke bust

MIAMI, April 15, CMC – The United States Coast Guard said on Saturday that it captured a speedboat laden with US $43 million worth of cocaine in the Caribbean Sea.

The Coast Guard said it seized 3,532 pounds of the drug, along with four suspected drug smugglers. It did not identify the nationalities of the alleged smugglers.

The Coast Guard hailed the seizure as a major drug bust in its latest collaborative regional effort to block US-bound drug shipments far from American shores, called Operation Martillo.

The multi-agency campaign teams up with regional law enforcement agencies, as well as with the Defense and Homeland Security departments to track down drug, weapons and cash smugglers in the coastal Caribbean region off Central America.

In the latest episode, the Coast Guard said an “Interdiction Tactical Squadron” aboard a helicopter off the 270-foot cutter Northland spotted a 35-foot speed boat with bales of the drug on its deck in the Caribbean Sea early on Saturday morning.

The Coast Guard said crewmembers of the Northland, a Portland, Virginia, 270-foot cutter, stopped the so-called “go-fast” with an assist from the Key West based cutter Pea Island, a 110-foot patrol boat.

The Northland’s skipper, Coast Guard Commander Dave Shepardson, said that the operation took place “in less-than perfect weather conditions.

“More importantly, the crew feels proud that they took a large quantity of drugs off the streets,” he said.

The speedboat had no known nationality and was destroyed “as a hazard to navigation,” said Coast Guard spokesman Lieutenant Patrick Montgomery.

He said the drugs and suspected smugglers were taken to Tampa, where the Justice Department’s drug-smuggling task force was handling the case prosecution.

On Thursday, the US Coast Guard said submarine and boat busts in the Caribbean Sea so far this year have yielded billions of United States dollars in cocaine.

It said that in three separate incidents in seven days in the Caribbean Sea, off the coasts of Nicaragua and Panama, in late March, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) aircraft helped “run down” three vessels carrying almost nine tons of cocaine worth about US$1.3 billion.

The huge haul came only two weeks after two more boatloads of the drug worth over half a billion US dollars were intercepted by CBP aircraft in the same region, the US Coast Guard said.

In two days in late March, the Coast Guard said CBP interdiction aircraft, operating out of National Air Security Operations Centers in Jacksonville, Florida, and Corpus Christi, Texas, helped intercept a Self Propelled Semi-Submersible (SPSS) carrying close to 14,000 pounds of cocaine, and two go-fast vessels carrying more than 4,400 pounds of cocaine.

The Coast Guard estimated the combined cargo was worth more than US$1.3 billion.

On March 29, the Coast Guard said two interdiction aircraft operating in the Western Caribbean assisted the Joint Interagency Task Force-South in finding and tracking a SPSS off the coast of Nicaragua.

“The crew scuttled the SPSS, but authorities recovered 13,889 pounds of cocaine worth more than US$1 billion,” the Coast Guard said.

A day later, it said an interdiction aircraft operating in the western Caribbean spotted a go-fast vessel carrying suspicious bales.

“The 40-foot twin-engine vessel was spotted speeding north off the coast of Panama and appeared to be carrying a load of packages when the Florida-based CBP P-3 (interdiction aircraft) began tracking the vessel,” the Coast Guard said.

“A local law enforcement patrol boat was sent in to board the vessel and uncovered 2,200 pounds of cocaine worth approximately US$164 million were recovered,” it added.

On April 4, the Coast Guard said 2,200 pounds of cocaine, worth about US$164 million, were seized and four crewmembers arrested after an interdiction aircraft spotted an open-hull go-fast vessel carrying rectangular bales in the Caribbean Sea, off the coast of Panama.

During fiscal year 2011, the US Coast Guard said its fleet seized or disrupted more than 148,000 pounds of cocaine, valued at more than US$11.1 billion.

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