$24 million drug bust

What happens when the Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection and Royal Netherlands Navy work together? A $24 million drug bust. The multi-agency seizure of 1,517 pounds of cocaine – estimated to have a wholesale value of more than $24 million – all began with a suspicious go-fast vessel.

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Coast Guard Cutter Sapelo and Royal Netherlands Navy Offshore Patrol Vessel HNLMS Holland search Caribbean Sea waters for bales of contraband June 11, 2013. Photo courtesy of Royal Netherlands Navy Offshore Patrol Vessel HNLMS Holland.
Coast Guard Cutter Sapelo and Royal Netherlands Navy Offshore Patrol Vessel HNLMS Holland search Caribbean Sea waters for bales of contraband June 11, 2013. Photo courtesy of Royal Netherlands Navy Offshore Patrol Vessel HNLMS Holland.

What happens when the Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection and Royal Netherlands Navy work together? A $24 million drug bust. The multi-agency seizure of 1,517 pounds of cocaine – estimated to have a wholesale value of more than $24 million – all began with a suspicious go-fast vessel.

The crew of an Air Station Miami HC-144 Ocean Sentry airplane was on patrol June 11 when they detected three men aboard a loitering go-fast vessel 105 miles southeast of Ponce, Puerto Rico. The Ocean Sentry, an HC-130 Hercules airplane and a Customs and Border Protection P-3 airplane maintained surveillance as watchstanders at Sector San Juan diverted Coast Guard Cutter Sapelo to interdict the suspect vessel.

The Royal Netherlands Navy Offshore Patrol Vessel HNLMS Holland and a Coast Guard HC-144 Ocean Sentry marine surveillance aircraft from Air Station Miami patrol Caribbean Sea waters. Photo courtesy of Royal Netherlands Navy Offshore Patrol Vessel HNLMS Holland.
The Royal Netherlands Navy Offshore Patrol Vessel HNLMS Holland and a Coast Guard HC-144 Ocean Sentry marine surveillance aircraft from Air Station Miami patrol Caribbean Sea waters. Photo courtesy of Royal Netherlands Navy Offshore Patrol Vessel HNLMS Holland.

Also alerted was the Royal Netherlands Navy HNLMS Holland Offshore Patrol Vessel, on patrol with a U.S. Coast Guard law enforcement detachment. The Holland arrived on scene and launched their high-speed pursuit boats to interdict the go-fast. Upon being detected, the suspected smugglers began to flee the area and jettisoned multiple bales of suspected contraband overboard. With the Holland’s boats in pursuit the smugglers came to a full stop and the law enforcement detachment boarded the suspect vessel, detaining the three men aboard.

The Sapelo arrived on-scene shortly thereafter and began searching alongside the Holland to find the bales of contraband that had been jettisoned into the water. With aerial support from air stations Miami, Clearwater and Borinquen, 20 bales of contraband were seized weighing more than 1,517 pounds. Both Sapelo’s and Holland’s crew conducted field tests revealing the suspected contraband to be cocaine.

Both the detainees and the bales of contraband were transferred to Sapelo for transport to Puerto Rico, while the suspect vessel was destroyed as a hazard to navigation. Once in port, Sapelo transferred the detainees and cocaine shipment on June 13 to awaiting Customs and Border Protection officers and Immigration and Customs Enforcement special agents in Ponce, Puerto Rico.

“This recent interdiction shows again that cooperation at sea is extremely important for counter-drug operations. Not only interagency cooperation between the U.S. Coast Guard and the Royal Netherlands Navy, but also multinational cooperation between the United States and the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Together we can make a difference,” said Royal Netherlands Navy Cmdr. Chris van den Berg, commanding officer of Holland.

Under Operation Unified Resolve, in partnership with regional law enforcement authorities in the Caribbean, the Coast Guard has seized 31,400 pounds of cocaine and 8,500 pounds of marijuana since May 21, 2012. The wholesale value for these seizures is worth more than $3.9 million.

Capt. Drew W. Pearson, commander of Sector San Juan, addresses reporters during an interagency press conference by federal authorities in Puerto Rico June 18, 2013. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Ricardo Castrodad.
Capt. Drew W. Pearson, commander of Sector San Juan, addresses reporters during an interagency press conference by federal authorities in Puerto Rico June 18, 2013. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Ricardo Castrodad.

“These arrests and multi-kilogram seizure are a clear indication of the success of the Caribbean Corridor Strike Force Initiative,” said Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, U.S. attorney for the District of Puerto Rico. “We will continue maximizing all of our combined resources to investigate and prosecute those who in flagrant disregard of our laws and way of life try to smuggle illegal contraband into our area of jurisdiction.”

The Coast Guard’s efforts under Operation Unified Resolve contribute to the interagency results being achieved each and every day under Operation Caribbean Guard, which coordinates efforts between the Coast Guard, Department of Homeland Security and law enforcement partners working diligently to deter, detect and disrupt illicit maritime trafficking to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

“Our local, federal and international partnerships are making a difference to stem the flow of drugs into Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands as far as possible and bring those responsible to justice,” said Coast Guard Capt. Drew Pearson, commander of Sector San Juan. “Our commitment and resolve to protect our coasts and the citizens of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands from the threats that come from the sea is unwavering.”

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