Coast Guard Crew Recognized for 'Treasure' Hunt

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While bad guys don’t take a break for the holidays, the good guys don’t either. And remembering to thank the good guys is the best gift ever.

Just before the holidays, two recognition events marked a law enforcement milestone for the Coast Guard and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

On Dec. 17, the U.S. Interdiction Coordinator Awards event held at the White House honored the crews of Coast Guard cutters Oak and Seneca, the FBI Technical Dive Team and Sector Mobile in the Maritime Interdiction category.

At another ceremony held at the FBI Technical Dive Team base at Quantico, Va., Coast Guard Cutter Oak was presented with a Coast Guard Meritorious Unit Commendation award while members of the FBI dive team proudly accepted the Meritorious Unit Commendation pennant on Dec. 21, 2012.

These awards were the results of a significant law enforcement operation dubbed Op Treasure Chest. In the summer of 2011, the Boston-based Seneca and Charleston, S.C.,-based Oak partnered with the FBI’s Technical Dive Team to retrieve contraband from a sunken self-propelled semi-submersible vessel in the western Caribbean Sea.

While on patrol July 11, 2011, the Seneca intercepted an SPSS after tracking it for more than 140 nautical miles aided with surveillance by a Coast Guard C-130, a maritime patrol aircraft and a Customs Border Protection P-3. To close in on the SPSS, the Seneca launched their small boat and an armed MH-65 Dolphin helicopter. Realizing they were spotted, the SPSS crew sank the vessel within minutes of being intercepted, but not before the small boat crew plucked three bales of contraband from the vessel’s forward hold. Still and video imagery were documented for evidence as developments quickly unfolded.

Despite many attempts by the Seneca and the Honduran navy dive team to search for the sunken SPSS in the days following the interdiction, they had no success.

With the ability to use its installed and mobile sonar systems, Oak was called in July 26 to look for the illicit sunken “treasure.” Deploying the FBI dive team using positive renderings from the sonar equipment, they hit pay dirt and found the SPSS resting vertically on its stern six feet into the seabed. After 14 dives, the team successfully transported all of the contraband, and the SPSS was delivered to the Honduran navy.

This unique law enforcement operation was a historical first in underwater recovery yielding approximately seven metric tons of cocaine worth $186 million from an SPSS.

After a thorough investigation and subsequent prosecution, the five SPSS detainees pled guilty to charges under the Maritime Drug Law Enforcement Act.

Keeping contraband and bad guys off the street takes hard work, lots of overtime, high-tech gear and teaming up. Making it happen from beginning to end, good guys win with their courage, tenacity and innovation.

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