$14 Million Cocaine, Heroin Shipment Transferred to Federal Agents

SAN JUAN, P.R. – The crew of Coast Guard Cutter Northland yesterday transferred approximately 871 pounds of cocaine, 270 pounds of heroin, and six suspected smugglers to federal agents of the Caribbean Corridor Initiative at Coast Guard Base San Juan.

The crew of a Coast Guard HITRON helicopter deployed aboard the Northland, along with a U.S. Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment aboard the Dutch naval vessel Zuiderkruis, intercepted a 40-foot, go-fast vessel Friday, in high seas north of Venezuela. The master of the vessel claimed that the vessel was of Venezuelan registry, however, Venezuelan authorities denied that claim.

The go-fast was intercepted after it failed to heave-to upon being ordered to stop by the Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron helicopter crew. After successfully bringing the go-fast to a halt through warning shots and disabling fire to the vessel’s engines, a Coast Guard boarding team discovered the go-fast was carrying 14 bales of cocaine and four of heroin. The drugs are estimated to have a street value of approximately $14 million. This heroin seizure is the largest recorded heroin seizure in the District of Puerto Rico.

Coast Guard Investigative Services and other Federal law enforcement agents at Coast Guard Base San Juan, arrested Colombians Oscar Mesa Zambrano, 57, and Javier Mitchell Hunter, 44; Venezuelans, Pedro Safir Beltran Zapata, 59, Gabriel Zarate Ramirez, 22, and Jose Fonseca Ineduar Ramirez, 24; and Dominican, Francisco Nueci Pena, 38. All arrested crewmembers are in U.S. Marshals custody awaiting the outcome of their criminal case.

The Caribbean Corridor Initiative, a federal multi-agency strike force focusing on the disruption of maritime drug-trafficking in the Caribbean, consists of members from the U.S. Coast Guard, Coast Guard Investigative Services, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Drug Enforcement Administration, Customs and Border Protection, Federal Bureau of Investigations and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

“We continue to work aggressively with our partners from ICE, DEA, FBI, CBP and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in maximizing the collective resources of the Caribbean Corridor Initiative to keep drugs off the streets and bring drug smugglers to justice,” said Capt. James Tunstall, commanding officer, Coast Guard Sector San Juan.

The United States Coast Guard’s HITRON Jacksonville, Fla. is America’s first and only airborne law-enforcement unit trained and authorized to employ Airborne Use of Force. HITRON is charged with conducting two missions; interdicting and stopping suspected drug-laden, high-speed vessels known as ‘go-fasts,’ and Ports, Waterways, and Coastal Security.

The Northland is a 270-foot medium endurance cutter homeported in Portsmith, V.A.

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