Written by Cmdr. Rick Wester.
Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Bob Papp testified before a joint U.S. House of Representatives hearing yesterday with the Committee on House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Marine Transportation and the Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere.
The joint hearing was held to examine the federal government’s efforts to confront transnational drug smuggling and stem the flow of illegal drugs in the drug transit zones of the western hemisphere and the southern maritime approaches to the United States.
“Ruthless transnational drug cartels create a destabilizing effect on both the governments and the economies of our Western Hemisphere partner nations,” said the Commandant, who also serves as Chairman of The Interdiction Committee. “And as those drugs reach our shores, the activities of these sophisticated criminal networks have an impact on America’s streets as well, in the form of gang violence and turf wars by urban drug dealers.”
The Coast Guard, as the lead federal agency for maritime law enforcement, deploys a variety of offshore assets to stop drug traffickers in the transit zone before they can approach our shores. These include major cutters, long and medium range fixed-wing aircraft, airborne use of force capable helicopters, and law enforcement detachments embarked on U.S. Navy and allied warships.
Over the last five years, Coast Guard ships and law enforcement detachments operating in the offshore regions have removed more than a million pounds of cocaine with a wholesale value of nearly $17 billion. This is more than two times the amount of cocaine seized by all other U.S. federal, state and local law enforcement agencies combined.
“And it’s not just about the drugs, because for every shipment we interdict at sea we gather valuable information about the sophisticated criminal enterprises that move these drugs,” said the Commandant. “By understanding these criminal networks we are better prepared to combat other illicit enterprises, including human traffickers and international terrorists, and our interdictions remain a key weapon in the U.S. arsenal to combat transnational criminal networks.”
Successful interdictions and subsequent prosecutions provide actionable intelligence on future events, producing follow-on seizures and additional intelligence, creating what the Commandant described as a “cycle of success.”
“In the resource constrained environment we all face, offshore interdiction is where we get the very best value for the taxpayer’s dollar,” the Commandant testified. “It is also where we have our first best chance to address this problem, close to the source and far from our shores, where the drug are pure and uncut, where they are in their most vulnerable bulk form and before they are divided in into increasingly smaller loads making them exponentially harder and more expensive to detect and interdict.”
However, due to a lack of available assets, the Coast Guard only stops a fraction of the northbound drugs, having chronic negative impacts on our Department’s mission to secure and manage our borders.
Earlier this year the Coast Guard awarded the preliminary and contract design contracts for the Offshore Patrol Cutter fleet which will replace the aging Medium Endurance Cutters. In his 2014 State of the Coast Guard Address, the Commandant called this the most important shipbuilding initiative in the service’s 223-year history.
“We now sit at a critical point in time where the vital necessity to recapitalize our aging offshore fleet connects with the expertise and strong competition to do so affordably,” said the Commandant. “To lose this opportunity would affect the very shape of our service and impact our ability to conduct our missions for the next 40 years.”