The United States Coast Guard on Saturday reported that the crew of Coast Guard Cutter Heriberto Hernandez offloaded approximately 1,981 kilograms of cocaine and 28 kilograms of amphetamines in Puerto Rico following two separate interdictions in the Caribbean Sea.
The US Coast Guard also said that six suspected smugglers were interdicted in the operations.
The seized illegal narcotics have a wholesale value of more than US$48 million.
In its report, the coast guard said the interdictions are the result of multi-agency and international partnership efforts in support of the Miami-based US Southern Command’s enhanced counter-narcotics operations in the Western Hemisphere, the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) programme and the Caribbean Corridor Strike Force (CCSF).
According to the US Coast Guard, the Attorney’s Office for the District of Puerto Rico is leading the prosecution for the two cases.
“The coast guard is uniquely equipped to support the US Navy and partner nation navies and coast guards in the interdiction of illicit drugs,” said Rear Admiral Eric C Jones, the commander of the Seventh Coast Guard District.
“Our relationships with nations across the Caribbean basin, along with our law enforcement authorities, enable us to provide essential support to the mission against international criminal networks attempting to smuggle people and drugs into the US,” he added. “We strive to continue building these relationships, further enabling our essential missions that safeguard the American people and our nation’s vital maritime commerce.”
W Stephen Muldrow, US Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico, said: “We continue to work with federal and state law enforcement agencies, along with our partners from the Royal Netherlands and United Kingdom navies, against drug traffickers in our area.”
“These seizures mark two more successful operations in our fight against criminal organisations attempting to use our territories as a hub for their illegal operations,” he added.
The US Coast Guard said the most recent interdiction occurred on September 28, when during a routine patrol of the RFA Argus, a Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship from the United Kingdom, the ship’s helicopter crew observed a suspect go-fast vessel with multiple packages and barrels of fuel onboard.
It said the HNLMS Groningen, a Holland-class offshore patrol vessel from the Royal Netherlands Navy that was operating nearby with a Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment onboard, responded and interdicted the go-fast with the assistance of the ship’s surface asset.
The US Coast Guard said the crew of the HNLMS Groningen “embarked three smugglers” — a Colombian, a Venezuelan and a Dominican Republic national from the go-fast.
The crew also located and recovered aboard the go-fast 49 bales that weighed 1,721 kilograms and tested positive for cocaine, and one package that weighed 28 kilograms and tested positive for amphetamines.
The coast guard said the second interdiction occurred September 24, after the aircrew of a US Customs and Border Protection maritime patrol aircraft detected a suspicious 35-foot go-fast vessel transiting without the use of navigational lights.
Coast guard watchstanders in Sector San Juan then directed the launch of a Coast Guard Air Station Miami HC-144 Ocean Sentry aircraft that relieved the first aircraft and maintained aerial coverage of the go-fast.
The cutter Heriberto Hernandez responded to the sighting and interdicted the go-fast with the assistance of the cutter’s small boat and the coast guard aircrew, the US Coast Guard said.
“The coast guard boarding team embarked the three men, who claimed to be Dominican Republic nationals, along with 13 bales of suspected contraband that were located under a blue tarp aboard the go-fast,” the statement said.
It said the seized contraband tested positive for cocaine and weighed 260 kilograms.
The US Coast Guard said the cutter Heriberto Hernandez transported the seized contraband and suspected smugglers from both cases to Sector San Juan, “where awaiting federal law enforcement agencies received custody”.
The US Coast Guard said that, on April 1, US Southern Command began enhanced counter-narcotics operations in the Western Hemisphere to disrupt the flow of drugs in support of Presidential National Security Objectives.
Numerous US agencies from the Departments of Defense, Justice and Homeland Security cooperated in the effort to combat transnational organised crime.
It said that it, along with the US Navy, US Customs and Border Protection, US Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Drug Enforcement Administration, and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, with allied and international partner agencies, “play a role in counter-drug operations”.
“The fight against drug cartels in the Caribbean Sea requires unity of effort in all phases from detection, monitoring and interdictions, to criminal prosecutions by international partners and US Attorneys Offices in districts across the nation,” the US Coast Guard said.
It said the law enforcement phase of counter-smuggling operations in the Caribbean Sea is conducted under the authority of the Coast Guard 7th District, headquartered in Miami.
The interdictions, including the actual boardings, are led and conducted by members of the US Coast Guard.