The relationships between the United States and countries in Central and South America are critical to the Coast Guard’s continuing efforts to intercept the flow of drugs in the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean maritime transit zones that lead to the U.S. border. Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Bob Papp visited Colombia recently to continue engagement with Colombian naval, coast guard and National Police of Colombia leadership and discuss their counter-drug initiatives.
“The Coast Guard takes the offensive in the transit zone to protect the United States from the onslaught of drugs and associated transnational organized crime that brings violence, decay and misery to many communities,” said Papp. “Leveraging the tools and resources of key international allies like Colombia helps us maintain this aggressive stance against those who threaten the United States.”
Broad-based international collaboration against transnational organized crime, a focus of recent U.S. efforts, is vital to not only keeping drugs off U.S. streets but also to maintaining stability in our regional neighborhood with which we share close personal ties and important trade. As illegal drugs make their way from the source countries of South America into the transit zone at sea, and into the nations of Central America and Mexico, they bring corruption, extreme violence and other corrosive effects as they move north. International and domestic efforts to combat drug smuggling secure regional stability, allow for legitimate businesses that create prosperity and remove conditions that cause illegal migration.
Agreements with Colombia have assisted the Coast Guard in law enforcement operations through information sharing and permission to conduct boardings on Colombian-flagged vessels.
For example, in February, the USS McClusky, a U.S. Navy frigate, identified a suspicious vessel while patrolling on the high seas north of Colombia. When McClusky approached the suspicious vessel, the master claimed Colombian registry for the vessel. A call to our Colombian partners quickly confirmed the claim was false. As a result, a Coast Guard law enforcement team from McClusky boarded the stateless vessel and discovered 450 kilograms of cocaine. The case has since been turned over to authorities for prosecution.
Cooperation with Colombia also extends to battling the latest smuggling threat to carry drugs in the region, self-propelled, semi-submersible vessels, also called drug subs. These vessels, which proliferated in the Eastern Pacific, are now used in the Caribbean Sea. They, along with fully submersible versions, are capable of transporting upwards of 10 tons of drugs or other dangerous contraband while attempting to avoid detection. Recently the United States, Colombia and Ecuador have successfully seized or disrupted these vessels from making their deliveries.
Partnering to enhance stability and security goes beyond counter narcotics operations. The Coast Guard also works with Colombia on port security and provides training for Colombian military personnel. In addition, Colombia operates multiple former Coast Guard cutters, including four 82-foot patrol boats, a 210-foot medium endurance cutter and a 180-foot buoy tender. The ships were transferred to Colombia through the Defense Department’s Excess Defense Articles program.
“Working with our international partners is integral to our success in counter-drug and other operations,” said Papp. “Colombia is a key ally in the region and we rely on the strength of our partnership to complete the mission.”