SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – The Coast Guard, British Royal Navy and U.S. law enforcement partners seized 1,500 pounds of cocaine, a go-fast vessel and detained three suspected smugglers, during an at-sea interdiction Friday in the Caribbean Sea.
The drug shipment is estimated to have a wholesale value of more than $24 million.
The interdiction was a result of an international, multi-agency law enforcement effort in support of Operation Unified Resolve, Operation Caribbean Guard, Operation Martillo (a joint, interagency, 15-nation collaborative counter narcotic effort), and the Caribbean Corridor Strike Force (CCSF).
“Our collective aggressive efforts involving international, federal and local enforcement authorities continue to yield positive results,” said Rear Adm. Jake Korn, commander of the Coast Guard Seventh District. “We stand united in our unwavering commitment to protect the citizens of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands from the threats that come from the sea by interdicting these major drug shipments as far from shore as possible and bringing those responsible to justice.”
Joint Interagency Task Force South relayed to Coast Guard Seventh District and Coast Guard Sector San Juan Command Center watchstanders that the crew of a patrolling U.S. Customs and Border Protection P-3 fixed-wing marine surveillance aircraft detected a suspicious 30-foot go-fast vessel Friday afternoon. The vessel was spotted carrying three suspected smugglers, who were using a tarp to conceal their position.
Coast Guard watchstanders at Sector San Juan diverted the Coast Guard Cutter Sapelo to interdict the suspect vessel, while the Royal Navy’s HMS Lancaster frigate, on patrol in the Caribbean Sea with a U.S. Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment (LEDET) onboard, also responded upon being alerted.
The CBP aircraft maintained surveillance of the suspect vessel as the Lancaster arrived on scene. Once on scene, the Lancaster launched their Lynx helicopter and high-speed pursuit boat to interdict the go-fast. Upon noticing the presence of law enforcement authorities, the suspected smugglers jettisoned a package overboard that was recovered by the Lancaster’s boat crew. The suspected smugglers became compliant as the Lancaster pursuit boat came alongside the suspect vessel.
A Coast Guard LEDET boarding team, with the assistance of Lancaster crewmembers, proceeded to board the suspect vessel, detain the three men onboard and seized 22 bales of suspected contraband. A test revealed the suspected contraband to be cocaine.
The crew of the Lancaster embarked the detainees and contraband. The crew of the HMS Lancaster transferred the contraband and suspected smugglers to the Sapelo for transport to Puerto Rico.
The crew of the Sapelo transferred the detainees and the cocaine to Customs and Border Protection officers, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE)-Homeland Security Investigations, and Drug Enforcement Administration special agents in Ponce, Puerto Rico, Sunday. The Caribbean Corridor Strike Force is leading a criminal investigation into the case.
“These arrests and multi-kilogram seizure are a clear indication of the success of the Caribbean Corridor Strike Force Initiative,” said Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico. “Along with our domestic and international law enforcement partners, we will continue to bring our resources to bear to ensure that drug traffickers and their associates are brought to justice for the damage they inflict on our communities.”
Since September 2012, the Coast Guard has seized 20,500 kilograms of cocaine and 8,500 pounds of marijuana during 22 law enforcement interdictions under Operation Unified Resolve, in partnership with regional law enforcement authorities in the Caribbean, The wholesale value for these seizures is worth more than $690.3 million.
The Coast Guard’s efforts under Operation Unified Resolve contribute to the interagency results being achieved each and every day locally under Operation Caribbean Guard, which coordinates efforts between the Coast Guard, its DHS, Commonwealth and Territorial law enforcement partners, who are working diligently to deter, detect and disrupt illicit maritime trafficking to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
CCSF is an initiative of the U.S. Attorney's Office created to disrupt and dismantle major drug trafficking organizations operating in the Caribbean. CCSF is part of the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) and Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) that investigates South American-based drug trafficking organizations responsible for the movement of multi-kilogram quantities of narcotics using the Caribbean as a transshipment point for further distribution to the United States. The initiative is composed of HSI, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico, Drug Enforcement Administration, FBI, the Coast Guard, CBP and PRPD's Joint Forces for Rapid Action.
The Coast Guard Cutter Sapelo is a 110-foot island class patrol boat homeported in San Juan.
The HMS Lancaster is a British Royal Navy Duke-class Type 23 frigate, which has played a primary role in major drugs seizures in the Caribbean.