Securing the Maritime Borders

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What’s your first thought when it comes to U.S. border security? Most people immediately think of land-based illegal activity prevention, but it’s no surprise that drug and migrant smugglers are increasingly using maritime routes to move narcotics and illegal migrants to the U.S. In 2008, around 90 percent of all cocaine destined for the U.S. came through Central America and Mexico and about 95 percent of the marijuana cultivated in Mexico is smuggled using maritime routes.

While the President recently unveiled the 2009 National Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy, the mission of border security is not new to the men and women of the U.S. Coast Guard and it isn’t limited to securing the Southwest border.

A member of the Coast Guard Cutter Sherman stands guard over 11.5 tons of cocaine. The Coast Guard Cutter Hamilton seized the drugs over three different seizures in the Eastern Pacific then transferred the drugs to CGC Sherman for taxi to Alameda where the process of destroying the drugs would begin. USCG photo by Petty Officer Brian N. Leshak.
A member of the Coast Guard Cutter Sherman stands guard over 11.5 tons of cocaine. The Coast Guard Cutter Hamilton seized the drugs over three different seizures in the Eastern Pacific then transferred the drugs to CGC Sherman for taxi to Alameda where the process of destroying the drugs would begin. USCG photo by Petty Officer Brian N. Leshak.

The Coast Guard’s role in migrant interdiction has been a part of our history since the service’s inception (read more about that part of the mission here ).  Its role in drug interdiction dates back to prohibition when Congress tasked the Coast Guard with enforcing the 18th Amendment .

As the lead federal agency for maritime drug interdiction and immigration law enforcement, the Coast Guard has the authority to not only apprehend foreign fishing vessels engaged in poaching and stop unsafe boaters but also to interdict vessels carrying illegal drugs and undocumented migrants. The Coast Guard constantly monitors a six million square mile area of maritime transit zones and actively engages with Federal, State and local partners including U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency, U.S. Border Patrol, U.S. Navy and international forces to protect and secure our borders.

Currently in the Southwest, Coast Guard District 11 has been participating in the joint agency Department of Homeland Security Operation Baja Oleada in response to numerous reports of go-fast vessels loitering or moving north along Baja California. The Coast Guard maintains at least one patrol boat conducting this operation at all times, and frequently has two patrol boats underway with air support as available.

Since December 2005, Coast Guard assets participating in Operation Baja Oleada have seized a total of 11 vessels and prevented the delivery of more than 58,000 pounds of marijuana to the U.S.  Just today in Southern California, a vessel was seized and 22 people apprehended for illegal human smuggling.

Other statistics that will rock your boat…
–    The Coast Guard provides for the safety, security, and stewardship of 3.4 million square miles of exclusive economic zone, 95,000 miles of coastline, 361 ports, the Great Lakes, inland waterways, and four international borders with Russia, Cuba, Mexico and Canada.
–    Since October 2005, the Coast Guard has seized and removed 64,372 pounds of marijuana and 1,043,514 pounds of cocaine and interdicted 20,422 illegal immigrants nationwide.
–    Coast Guard drug interdiction accounts for nearly 52% of all U.S. government seizures of cocaine each year.

So, next time you enter the U.S. through a port of entry or take a boat on the open water, think about the important job the men and women of the U.S. Coast Guard are doing to protect and secure our maritime borders.

C. Braesch

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