SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Coast Guard, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) authorities disrupted a maritime illegal drug shipment Friday seizing 54 bales of cocaine, weighing 3,306 pounds, in the Caribbean Sea.
Federal law enforcement authorities in support of Caribbean Border Interagency Group's (CBIG) Operation Caribbean Guard, coordinated efforts to disrupt and seize this drug shipment estimated to have a street value of over $38 million.
"The commitment and resolve of federal and local law enforcement authorities working under the Caribbean Border Interagency Group is delivering strong and continuous successful outcomes interdicting major drug shipments at sea as far from shore as possible," said Coast Guard Capt. Drew Pearson, Sector San Juan commander. "We stand watch twenty-four seven to protect the safety and security of the citizens of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands from the threats delivered by the sea."
While on a routine patrol, the crew of a CBP maritime patrol aircraft detected three men aboard a suspicious Panga type vessel operating with no navigational lights carrying suspected contraband, approximately 73 nautical miles south of Naguabo.
Coast Guard Sector San Juan Watchstanders notified of the developing situation by the crew of the CBP aircraft, diverted the Coast Guard Cutter Cushing and launched an HC-144 Ocean Sentry Maritime Patrol Aircraft, deployed to Puerto Rico from Air Station Miami, to interdict the suspect vessel.
The crew of the CBP maritime patrol aircraft observed the men onboard the suspect vessel jettison their cargo overboard as they fled the area at a high rate of speed following a pursuit by Coast Guard and CBP authorities in the area.
The Cushing and a CBP marine unit arrived on-scene and began to recover the jettisoned cargo from the water. After searching all night and day, the crew of the Cushing recovered 33 bales and the CBP marine unit recovered 21 bales from the water. A further inspection and testing of the suspected drug shipment revealed the contraband to be cocaine.
The crew of the CBP marine unit transported the 21 bales of the illegal drug shipment were transported to Ponce, while the Cushing transported the 33 bales to San Juan. The custody of the entire shipment, 54 bales, was transferred to awaiting ICE HSI special agents for investigation and final disposition.
“This seizure should send a clear message to unscrupulous drug smugglers that HSI and its Caribbean Border Interagency Group partners will remain vigilant in our efforts to prevent the importation of narcotics to Puerto Rico,” said Angel Melendez, special agent in charge of HSI San Juan. “We will continue with this investigation and will not rest until we bring to justice those responsible for this attempt to import this huge amount of cocaine to our jurisdiction.”
"CBP air and marine assets continuously patrol the coastal borders of Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands to leverage the collective efforts of all federal and state law enforcement partners to intercept any smuggling venture," stated Johnny Morales, Director of CBP Air Operations.
The CBIG was formally created to unify efforts of CBP, the Coast Guard, ICE HSI, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Puerto Rico and the Puerto Rico Police Joint Forces of Rapid Action in their common goal of securing the borders of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands against illegal migrant and drug smuggling.
Since September 2012, Coast Guard, alongside CBIG law enforcement agencies under Operation Caribbean Guard, have seized 27,650 kilograms of cocaine in partnership with regional law enforcement authorities in the Caribbean. The wholesale value for these seizures is worth more than $829 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.