While Coast Guard crews are well-versed in law enforcement missions, their collaborative efforts and contribution to a recent drug bust in the central Caribbean Sea highlights the value of their work.
On the evening of Jul. 15, 2013, a Coast Guard HC-144 Ocean Sentry airplane from Air Station Miami detected a go-fast in the waters south of Mona Pass. Assisted by infrared capabilities, the sharp aircrew detected suspicious, square-shaped packages onboard and notified the command center at Sector San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Along with Coast Guard Cutter Legare, Coast Guard Cutter Robert Yered and a helicopter from the Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron were diverted to assist in pursuit of the suspected smugglers. Once on scene, the helicopter crew asked the suspicious vessel to halt. When it failed to do so, warning shots were fired.
As the go-fast continued to flee and began tossing bales overboard, the helicopter fired disabling shots. What began as an adrenaline-laced pursuit resulted in an important seizure of 2,300 pounds of cocaine and the apprehension of four suspected smugglers. The street value of the seizure was estimated at $35 million.
While many have lauded the efforts of Coast Guard crews in drug seizures, this recent, seamless operation traces its interdiction success to Operation Unified Resolve, a program initiated by the 7th Coast Guard District commander.
A joint agency law enforcement operation, its goal is to combat the uptick in narcotics smuggling and related violence around Puerto Rico and the Caribbean Basin.
The well-coordinated operation involves multiple agencies working in tandem with one another and falls under the San Juan Regional Coordinating Mechanism Caribbean Border Interagency Group. It has already yielded significant results, including the seizure of more than 40,000 pounds of cocaine during 30 separate seizures. That occurred during a period spanning the first nine months of the current fiscal year.
“The Coast Guard and our partner agencies are working closely to deter, disrupt and interdict illegal narcotics and migrant smuggling operations in the Caribbean Sea,” said Lt. Cmdr. Gabe Somma, 7th Coast Guard District public affairs officer.
His sentiments were echoed by Lt. Paul Stepler, commanding officer of the Robert Yered, who was quick to credit his crew for their role in this most recent apprehension. He highlighted his ship’s capabilities, designed to nimbly perform an array of missions including maritime drug interdiction, national defense, marine environmental protection and search and rescue. It is the most newly-minted Sentinel-class fast response cutter.
“The crew does novel work, demonstrating an ability to keep up pursuits at nighttime,” he said. “They do it safely, in the dark and at high speeds.”
On July 20, 2013, the contraband was offloaded at Base Miami Beach.
“This is where he crew gets to see the results of their efforts and vigilance,” Stepler said, as the media filmed the offload.
While the work is challenging and often dangerous, it helps keep narcotics from getting to shore. To Petty Officer 3rd Class Ener Vera-Plaza, an engineer aboard Robert Yered, the case holds a special significance. Standing guard on the dock, he offered a unique perspective.
“This case meant a lot to me, because I am from Puerto Rico,” he said. “I got to do my job in my homeland and had the opportunity to stop drugs. Now I know I contributed a little bit to make the world a little safer,” Vera-Plaza said.