ALAMEDA, Calif. — The crew of an Alameda-based Coast Guard Cutter returned home November 24 after completing a 104-day multi-mission deployment in which they seized over $455 million worth of illegal narcotics.
Bertholf was deployed to the Eastern Pacific Ocean in support of Joint Interagency Task Force-South (JIATF-S) Operation Martillo. During this phase the cutter’s crew boarded and seized 11 smuggling vessels, detained 32 suspected narco-traffickers, and prevented more than 30,000 pounds of illegal narcotics from reaching U.S. shores.
The cutter’s success on the recent deployment showcases the stamina and flexibility of Bertholf’s hard-working crew, highlighted by the cutter’s interdiction of a self-propelled semi-submersible (SPSS),. Bertholf’s highly-trained boarding teams achieved complete surprise in taking control of the stealthy vessel, and spent over 2 full days onboard the SPSS ultimately recovering over 15,000 pounds of narcotics.
“The constant effort put forth by the Bertholf crew to complete our mission is truly remarkable,” said Petty Officer Brianne Dillman, a machinery technician responsible for keeping the cutter’s engines in top condition for high-speed pursuits. “Returning home with such success after a long and arduous deployment is a reminder that we are making a difference in the world.”
At another point during the deployment, the cutter’s crew pursued nine different go-fast vessels on the high seas in less than seven days. The successful interdictions were enabled by the cutter’s interoperability with other Coast Guard units, as well as assets from the Department of Defense and other agencies supporting the JIATF-S mission.
”We could not have scripted a deployment with more success, more interesting port calls, or a more dedicated crew,” said Captain Laura Collins. “It’s very satisfying to see all of our preparations culminate in this type of service – keeping dangerous substances from reaching our country.”
For a portion of the deployment, the cutter traveled to Valparaiso, Chile in support of UNITAS 2015, a multinational naval exercise, partnering with naval forces from 11 countries, including the U.S. Navy. Bertholf ‘s boarding teams conducted joint interdiction operations with Chilean and Mexican forces, boarding simulated rogue merchant vessels to seize smuggled weapons of mass destruction components as part of an international task force.
"It was an incredible event,” said Petty Officer Nico Benedetti, a supervisor in the cutter's Combat Information Center. “The opportunity to work with the members of the Chilean Coast Guard strengthened relationships between two foreign services. The experience, as well as the hospitality of our Chilean counterparts, will long be remembered."
Joint Interagency Task Force South, a National Task Force under U.S. Southern Command, oversees the detection and monitoring of illicit traffickers and assists U.S. and multi-national law enforcement agencies with interdiction of these activities. These law enforcement operations are led and conducted by the U.S. Coast Guard and/or agencies from partner nations, under the tactical control of the 11th Coast Guard District in Alameda. The 11th District encompasses the Southwestern U.S. and coastal waters, as well as offshore waters from California to South America.