The U.S. Coast Guard lived up to its motto of being “Always Ready” in 2011 – from interdicting the first drug sub in Caribbean waters to providing humanitarian relief to a drought-stricken island nation, Coast Guard crews had a remarkable year. As 2011 winds down, Compass brings to you “Your Coast Guard in 2011” – a series highlighting the top stories, missions and cases from around the nation.
After taking you through every district and Atlantic Area, we have reached our final highlight story, Coast Guard Pacific Area. We hope you have enjoyed Your Coast Guard in 2011, and look forward to bringing you more stories about the amazing missions of the U.S. Coast Guard in 2012!
Written by Pacific Area Public Affairs.
Coast Guard Pacific Area is responsible for 74 million square miles of ocean, ranging from South America, north to the Arctic Circle and west to the Far East. With such an expansive area, crews must remain ever-vigilant for the full gamut of Coast Guard missions. 2011 proved to be quite a year for Coast Guard crews in the Pacific Area as they overcame huge distances, a determined adversary and aging equipment to keep drugs off the streets of America.
Securing our borders
Crews from Coast Guard Cutters Bertholf and Boutwell, large offshore cutters capable of countering threats far from U.S. shores, were involved in three successful drug busts within a one-week timeframe.
The crew of Boutwell located a fishing vessel 230 miles west of Ecuador and noticed there were suspicious packages on the boat, along with no fish or fishing gear. Boutwell’s boarding team searched the vessel and located 40 bales of cocaine, weighing 55 pounds each. The nine individuals were detained and brought aboard the cutter.
The crew of Bertholf – one of the service’s new national security cutters, uniquely equipped to respond to all threats and all events in times of crisis – scored twice when the crew located two go-fast vessels off Panama. The first one had two bales of cocaine and three suspected smugglers aboard. The second vessel was located two days later and the crew began jettisoning about nine bales, one of which was recovered by Bertholf’s boatcrew. The suspected smugglers 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.
The crew of Coast Guard Cutter Waesche, another national security cutter, echoed the successes of both Bertholf and Boutwell as they interdicted two drug-smuggling vessels in the waters east of Central America during a 48-hour period.
The first bust occurred when Waesche’s helicopter crew located a 20-foot fishing vessel approximately 350 miles south of Guatemala with numerous makeshift fuel tanks and no fish or fishing gear aboard.
The second Waesche bust occurred a mere 48 hours later 300 miles southeast of Costa Rica when Waesche’s helicopter crew spotted a fishing vessel. Once overhead, the helicopter crew witnessed the fishing boat crew dumping bales of cocaine overboard. Waesche’s boarding team arrived on scene and recovered 13 bales of cocaine, approximately 500 kilograms, and detained five suspects.
Through their interdictions, both Bertholf and Waesche demonstrated how the national security cutter was the right ship for the job. The highly capable ships and crews – equipped with the right tools, command and control systems, sensors, information exchange and weapons systems – arrived on scene quickly and carried out the mission. The national security cutters’ ability to stay at sea for extended periods and launch multiple boats and helicopters to coordinate operations only add to the Coast Guard’s capacity to stop threats from reaching our shores.
A rising threat
While crews were successful interdicting drugs being smuggled in via more traditional methods, they also found success in interdicting drug subs. One such case included Coast Guard Cutter Sherman’s crew who located a self-propelled semi-submersible approximately 300 miles off Costa Rica.
A lookout aboard Sherman spotted what appeared to be a person standing aboard the hull of a vessel. As the crew of Sherman prepared to launch their response boat, three more people came up from inside the vessel as they starting sinking the sub. Sherman’s boarding team recovered the four people and several bales of cocaine.
While on an international patrol, the crew of Coast Guard Cutter Midgett bagged a drug sub of their own off Costa Rica. Aboard the sub was 13,000 pounds of cocaine. The crew was participating in joint operations with Central and South American partner countries to intercept smuggling vessels headed to North America during the time of the interdiction.
The operation was one part of the Coast Guard’s substantial engagement with international partners in the region to improve collective capabilities to combat transnational crime that threatens regional stability.
Pooling together resources is especially important in the transit zone as stopping the drugs offshore is more efficient and cost-effective. The Coast Guard’s offshore presence with partner agencies allows for bulk quantities of narcotics to be seized at sea before they can be offloaded, divided between dealers and sold to our nation’s citizens.
Pacific Area has had a dynamic year; from supporting the newest cutters and their battles with drug smugglers to rebuilding the area, Pacific Area will continue to be the pointy end of the spear when it comes to Coast Guard missions.
“Through collaborative leadership, we will protect and advance U.S. maritime interests across Pacific Area by enabling excellence in mission execution and translating strategic intent into tactical action,” said Vice Adm. Manson K. Brown, commander of Pacific Area.