A month ago today Compass brought you the story of Coast Guard Cutter Waesche’s drug seizure on its inaugural deployment. The rest of the month mirrored Waesche’s success. Case in point: The crews of Coast Guard Cutters Bertholf and Boutwell who successfully completed three drug interdictions in just one week.
Boutwell’s interdiction began Nov. 23 when the cutter approached fishing vessel El Soberano, approximately 230 miles west of Ecuador. The Coast Guard crew observed suspicious packages, saw there was no fishing gear on the deck and noted the El Soberano was towing another vessel. Boutwell’s boarding team conducted a search of the fishing vessel, discovering 40 bales of cocaine weighing between 50 to 56 pounds each. The boarding team detained all nine individuals aboard the two vessels and brought them aboard Boutwell.
“I couldn’t be prouder of my crew for their vigilance and decisive actions during this interdiction,” said Capt. Matthew J. Gimple, commanding officer of Boutwell. “For more than 42 years, the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Boutwell has safeguarded America’s maritime interests – at home and around the world – saving those in peril, defending our maritime border, and protecting the maritime transportation system, natural resources and the marine environment.”
“We’ve had three interdictions this month, all of which were 200 miles or more offshore; the ability to operate multiple, over-the-horizon boats and aircraft from our cutter for sustained periods is key to success,” added Gimple.
Bertholf’s action began five nautical miles west of Punta Caracoles, Panama, while the cutter was on patrol in Panamanian waters under the authority of an embarked Panamanian shiprider. A go-fast speedboat was spotted by a maritime patrol airplane, which passed the position to Bertholf.
Bertholf’s crew zeroed in on the speedboat using the ship’s forward-looking infrared radar, and a boat was launched. The go-fast vessel fled, jettisoning about nine bales, one of which was recovered by Bertholf’s boatcrew. The suspect boat eluded law enforcement using the cover of coves and islands in the area, and the pursuit ended as the chase neared the territorial seas of Colombia.
Two nights prior, Bertholf intercepted another go-fast vessel, netting two bales of cocaine and three suspects who were turned over to Panamanian authorities.
“My crew’s response was exceptional during the prosecution of this case, and I’m proud to report we foiled these drug smugglers and kept the narcotics from reaching their ultimate destination – the United States,” said Capt. Thomas E. Crabbs, commanding officer of Bertholf. “The Bertholf is one of the Coast Guard’s newest cutters, unique to the United States and uniquely equipped to respond to all threats; it served the nation well during this case.”
Of the 771 metric tons of cocaine known to be bound for the U.S. in 2011, more than 85 percent was transported on the high seas. In 2010 the U.S. Coast Guard prevented 73.9 metric tons of cocaine – interdicted in the maritime transit zone between South America and Central and North America – from reaching our shores, nearly double the amount seized by federal, state, local and tribal officials located on our land borders and in communities across the U.S.
“The pervasive threat of maritime drug smuggling that we witnessed in fiscal year 2011 is a good example of why we need modern capabilities like the national security cutter to protect our nation,” said Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Bob Papp. “Dollar for dollar, the best investment of taxpayer money for ensuring U.S. security, defending our borders from threats, enforcing sovereignty and guarding marine resources is in capabilities that enable Coast Guard persistent presence at sea where we can meet threats before they reach our shores.”
“With counterdrug operations, this strategy has enabled us to seize bulk quantities of narcotics at sea before they are offloaded ashore, separated between dealers and then broken down for sale on our streets and in our neighborhoods,” added Papp.