SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — The Coast Guard Cutter Vigorous transferred custody of two suspected smugglers and 1,230 pounds of cocaine to Immigration and Customs Enforcement – Homeland Security Investigations (ICE-HSI) special agents in San Juan, Puerto Rico Friday, following the interdiction of a go-fast vessel Aug. 11, 2015 in the Caribbean Sea.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Puerto Rico filed a criminal complaint in the U.S. District Court of Puerto Rico Friday to prosecute the two men on charges of conspiracy to import cocaine into the United States and conspiracy to posses cocaine.
The interdiction was the result of a multi-agency law enforcement effort in support of Operation Unified Resolve, Operation Caribbean Guard and the Caribbean Corridor Strike Force. The drug shipment was estimated to have a wholesale value of approximately $14 million dollars.
“The great coordination and response between the units involved prevented yet another illegal drug shipment from reaching our shores and two smugglers being brought to justice,” said Capt. Robert W. Warren, Sector San Juan commander. “The strong interagency partnerships and cooperation between federal, local and regional law enforcement authorities are making a difference in our efforts to secure the Caribbean border and protect the citizens of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands from smuggling threats in the region.
“It was a team effort! Coast Guard forces along with our intra-agency, inter-agency, and local police forces all played a critical role in the successful interdiction/seizure of over 500 kgs of cocaine,” said Cmdr. Arthur Ray, Commanding Officer of the Coast Guard Cutter Vigorous. “Our crew performed brilliantly and I am very proud of their performance and the overall outcome of this counter-drug event.”
During a routine patrol Tuesday evening, the crew of a Coast Guard maritime patrol aircraft detected a suspicious 30-foot blue-hulled go-fast vessel with two people and possible contraband on board. The go fast vessel was detected approximately 55 nautical miles south of St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. Watchstanders at Coast Guard Sector San Juan working in coordination with Joint Interagency Task Force-South, diverted the Coast Guard Cutter Vigorous and launched a 33-foot Special Purpose Craft-Law Enforcement with a Marine Safety and Security Team (MSST) onboard to interdict the suspect vessel. U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Puerto Rico Police Joint Forces of Rapid Action marine units also responded to the case.
The Vigorous, vectored-in by the Coast Guard aircraft, arrived on scene in pursuit of the suspicious go fast. As the Vigorous closed-in, Coast Guard crews observed the people aboard the go-fast jettison their cargo overboard and flee the area at high speed towards Puerto Rico.
The Coast Guard MSST crew that remained in hot pursuit arrived on scene and interdicted the go-fast, approximately 17 nautical miles south of Humacao, Puerto Rico. The Coast Guard aircraft along with a U.S. Customs and Border Protection DHC-8 Marine Patrol Aircraft coordinated and maintained surveillance of the go-fast throughout the interdiction.
Meanwhile, the Vigorous successfully recovered 19 bales of suspected contraband that were jettisoned from the go-fast and later tested positive for cocaine.
Since January 2015, the Coast Guard has seized 15,388 pounds of cocaine and 14,500 pounds of marijuana during 16 counter-drug interdictions as part of Operation Unified Resolve. The wholesale value for these seizures is worth more than $208 million.
The Coast Guard’s efforts under Operation Unified Resolve contribute to the interagency results being achieved locally each and every day under Operation Caribbean Guard, which coordinates efforts between the Coast Guard, DHS and Commonwealth and Territorial law enforcement partners, who are working diligently to deter, detect and disrupt illicit maritime trafficking to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The Vigorous is a 210-foot cutter homeported in Virginia Beach, Va. The ship and crew execute maritime law enforcement, homeland security, and search and rescue missions in support of Coast Guard operations throughout the Western Hemisphere.