Written by Lt. Donnie Brzuska.
Yesterday, the crew of Coast Guard Cutter Boutwell returned home and offloaded more than 28,000 pounds of cocaine seized during counter drug missions on a 90-day deployment.
The crew turned the cocaine, worth more than $423 million wholesale, over to agents from the Drug Enforcement Agency. The drugs were seized and 55 suspects were apprehended during 18 separate interdictions by U.S. Coast Guard and Navy forces off the coast of Central and South America as part of Operation Martillo. Six of the interdictions were made by the crew of Boutwell.
“The success of the crew of [Coast Guard] Cutter Boutwell, and of all our U.S. forces deployed throughout the Eastern Pacific Ocean, showcase the resolve of the Coast Guard, our interagency partners, and the international community to combat transnational organized crime networks operating in the Western Hemisphere,” said Vice Adm. Charles W. Ray, commander of Coast Guard Pacific Area, who welcomed the crew home and presented them with the Coast Guard Meritorious Unit Commendation for their role in the operation. “These Coast Guard men and women successfully confronted the risks brought on by the rising threat of transnational organized crime networks, which must be confronted to ensure maritime safety, efficiency, and security in the Western Hemisphere.”
Boutwell’s crew coordinated with U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Navy, Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, and partner-nation assets to execute 15 go-fast pursuits resulting in the interdiction of six drug laden vessels and disruption of nine additional cases. The crew of Boutwell alone seized more than 5,000 pounds of cocaine worth more than $75 million and detained 19 suspected smugglers.
“Our crew used their unique capabilities and authorities as a military service, law enforcement agency, and member of the U.S. intelligence community to disrupt transnational organized crime networks in the Eastern Pacific and keep drugs from making it to the U.S.,” said Capt. Edward A. Westfall, commanding officer of Coast Guard Cutter Boutwell. “These illegal drug networks are dangerous breeding grounds for all types of trafficking and their immense profits fuel violence and instability.”
Operation Martillo, or Hammer, is one component in the U.S. Government’s whole-of-government approach to countering the spread of transnational organized crime in Central America and the use of Central American littorals as transshipment routes for illicit drugs, weapons, cash, and human trafficking.
The Coast Guard Cutter Boutwell is a 378-foot high endurance cutter with a crew of approximately 160 people. The more than 45-year-old Boutwell and the other Secretary-class, high endurance cutters, are being replaced by the Legend-class national security cutters. National security cutters are better equipped, more durable, safer, and more efficient than their predecessor, and will continue to allow the Coast Guard to deliver its unique blend of military capability, law enforcement authority, and lifesaving expertise.
The narcotics aboard Boutwell were intercepted by a variety U.S. forces operating in the Eastern Pacific including Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf, Coast Guard Cutter Boutwell, USS McClusky, USS Vandegrift, USS Ingraham, Coast Guard Tactical Law Enforcement Team South and Coast Guard Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron.
Boutwell’s offload comes less than two weeks after Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft signed the U.S. Coast Guard Western Hemisphere Strategy, which addresses transnational threats and maritime challenges that threaten the security of the Nation, markets and oceans. Increased threats in the Western Hemisphere led to the new Western Hemisphere Strategy with the following priorities: combating networks, securing borders, and safeguarding commerce.