USS UNDERWOOD, At Sea -- The Oliver Hazard Perry-class guided-missile frigate USS Underwood (FFG 36), recovered 49 bales of narcotics from the Caribbean Sea during Operation Martillo, Aug. 3.
Underwood pursued a "go-fast" speed boat late Tuesday evening, Aug. 2, but it dumped its load before Underwood was able to effect a boarding. A Customs and Border Protection maritime patrol aircraft flying overheard, reported the "go-fast" dumping packages over the side and informed Underwood, who marked the position of the debris field in order to locate the packages in daylight.
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Miguel Aponte, a member of the bridge watch team, spotted the first bale in the water around 8:15 a.m. Underwood Sailors manned the boat deck and loaded a team, including two members of an onboard U.S. Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment (LEDET), into a rigid-hull inflatable boat (RHIB). Over the next few hours, Sailors aboard Underwood used binoculars to search the surrounding area for more bales while the RHIB team recovered anything spotted in the water.
"Right off the bat, we just start picking up bales that were floating in our area," said a member of the LEDET. "After that, the ship vectored us in to different sections that they could see from a further distance and then also the helo [helicopter] vectored us in."
An SH-60B Sea Hawk helicopter assigned to the Vipers of Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron Light Four Eight Detachment Three (HSL-48.3) launched to assist the search from the air.
"Initially we took off, were given two initial points to go between, searching back and forth using a linear pattern," said Lt. j.g. Lance Herdon, one of the SH-60B pilots that flew the mission. "We got vectored in by the ship after calculating set and drift. We went to that area and began spotting the packages. We called back the position back to the ship and they began directing the RHIB over in that area. We orbited the area and continued to find more packages."
In the end, Underwood recovered approximately 1,225 kilograms of narcotics.
"Going wholesale price is $22,500 per kilo. So estimated with 49 bales and 25 kilos per bale, we estimate about $27.5 million" worth of narcotics recovered, according to a Naval Criminal Investigative Services (NCIS) Special Agent familiar with the case.
Operation Martillo (Spanish for 'hammer') is a U.S., European, and Western Hemisphere partner nation effort targeting illicit trafficking routes in coastal waters along the Central American isthmus.
Led by Joint Interagency Task Force (JITF) South, a component of U.S Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), Operation Martillo is a component of the U.S. government's coordinated interagency regional security strategy in support of the White House strategy to combat transnational organized crime and the U.S. Central America Regional Security Initiative. Fourteen countries are participating: Canada, Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, France, Guatemala, Honduras, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Panama, Spain,United Kingdom and the United States.
JIATF South is a multiservice, multiagency national task force which conducts counter-illicit trafficking operations and intelligence fusion to detect, monitor, and handoff suspected illicit trafficking targets to law enforcement activities; promotes security cooperation and coordinates country team and partner nation initiatives in order to defeat the flow of illicit traffic.
Underwood is deployed to Central and South America and the Caribbean in support of Southern Seas 2012.
Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command/U.S. 4th Fleet supports U.S. Southern Command joint and combined full-spectrum military operations by providing principally sea-based, forward presence to ensure freedom of maneuver in the maritime domain, to foster and sustain cooperative relationships with international partners and to fully exploit the sea as maneuver space in order to enhance regional security and promote peace, stability, and prosperity in the Caribbean, Central and South American regions.