The Coast Guard has been America’s first line of defense against threats delivered by and from the high seas for decades. While on patrol last month in the Caribbean the men and women aboard Coast Guard Cutter Diligence proved to be that first line of defense once again as they interdicted two drug-smuggling fishing vessels laden with cocaine.
Diligence, a 210-foot medium endurance cutter homeported in Wilmington, N.C., was on a routine patrol in the Western Caribbean Sea when a 35-foot fishing vessel was spotted by the crew.
“We went ahead and enacted a bilateral agreement; we got permission to get on board the vessel,” said Ensign James Heuser, one of Diligence’s boarding officers. “Once on board we went and did a basic initial safety inspection which is just to make sure that its safe for my crew to be on board the vessel.”
While the inspection was part of normal procedures, a discovery by the boarding team made it anything but routine.
“During that inspection one of my team members went up forward to check one of the holds to look in the bilge to make sure there was no water coming in, and he saw a bunch of bales stacked up pretty much to the deck plates he was standing on,” said Heuser.
The bales stacked to the deck plates ended up being 2,808 pounds of cocaine.
The Diligence crew detained four suspected smugglers aboard the vessel and prevented the trafficking of the cocaine, worth an estimated street value of $34 million.
“Seeing that much contraband in one place and knowing we have positive control over it is gratifying but also reminds you how serious and dangerous our mission can be,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Clark, a member of the boarding team for the drug bust.
Later in their patrol, Diligence moved towards the Eastern Caribbean Sea, and once again interdicted a fishing vessel. The boarding team made a plain-view discovery and retrieved 54 individually wrapped packages, testing positive for cocaine. Once more, the crew stopped the smugglers and prevented the haul – worth an estimated street value of $1.5 million – from reaching our shores.
It was a joint effort that allowed Diligence to seize the contraband; from the boarding team to cooperating authorities, law enforcement officers and agents provided a united front to ensure nothing got past their line of defense.
“These interdictions were conducted during joint operations with Dutch and French authorities and highlight the importance and effectiveness of international partnerships as we work to stem the flow of illegal narcotics,” said Cmdr. Douglas Goodwin, Diligence’s commanding officer. “Additionally, the professionalism and proficiency of Diligence’s crew were critical to our success in interdicting these vessels.”
“A drug bust doesn’t happen without every person onboard the cutter doing their job. I’m proud of the entire crew; everyone stepped up,” added Clark.
After their 45-day multi-mission patrol in the Caribbean came to an end, crewmembers knew they played an important part in securing our nation’s borders. In the fight against smugglers whose aim is to profit from illegal drugs, Diligence prevailed as they interdicted a total of 2,927 pounds of cocaine during the two separate cases.
“My favorite part of this patrol is knowing that when we came back we would be able to hold our heads high and say we stopped drugs from getting onto the streets in some community, somewhere,” said Clark.