Coast Guard Cutter Alert returns home from counterdrug patrol

A Coast Guard Cutter Alert boarding team prepares to remove contraband from a suspected low-profile go-fast vessel in international waters off the coast of Central America during the cutter’s counterdrug patrol in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, July 1, 2018. The boarding resulted in the seizure of 2,263 pounds of suspected cocaine and the apprehension of three suspected smugglers. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

A Coast Guard Cutter Alert boarding team prepares to remove contraband from a suspected low-profile go-fast vessel in international waters off the coast of Central America during the cutter’s counterdrug patrol in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, July 1, 2018.  U.S. Coast Guard photo.

ASTORIA, Ore. – The crew aboard Coast Guard Cutter Alert returned Wednesday to their homeport of Astoria following a 56-day counterdrug patrol in the Eastern Pacific Ocean.

Alert crewmembers and a tactical law enforcement detachment team conducted multiple interdictions while patrolling international waters off the coast of Central America in support of the Joint Interagency Task Force South (JIATF-South). The interdictions resulted in more than 12,000 pounds of suspected cocaine seized with an estimated value of $188.7 million wholesale, setting a record for the cutter as the most cocaine seized during a single patrol.

In early July, the Alert received maritime patrol aircraft support from multiple agencies vectoring Alert’s interceptor boat toward a low-profile go-fast vessel. Low-profile go-fast vessels are designed to traffic large quantities of illicit contraband by riding low in the water and are camouflaged to evade detection by law enforcement authorities. Alert’s boarding team interdicted the low-profile go-fast vessel and apprehended three suspected smugglers. The boarding team seized approximately 4,978 pounds of suspected cocaine from the vessel.

An Alert boarding team simultaneously intercepted two go-fast vessels within close proximity to each other in mid-July. The boarding team apprehended eight suspected smugglers and seized a combined total of approximately 5,284 pounds of suspected cocaine during the pair of interdictions.

Alert boarding teams recovered an additional 2,158 pounds of suspected cocaine jettisoned by suspected smugglers as the suspects fled from Alert pursuit teams attempting to interdict the suspicious vessels during two separate cases in June.

The efforts by the crew during the counterdrug patrol will aid federal investigators in the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security as they continue their work dismantling the transnational organized crime networks who are pervasive in Central America, Mexico and South America.

Alert’s engineering department kept the ship and interceptor boat operating and mission capable during the patrol overcoming 20 significant equipment casualties including two that were temporarily disabling.

“The crew worked incredibly hard during this patrol, overcoming many challenges,” said Cmdr. Tobias Reid, Alert’s commanding officer. “They pulled through the casualties and achieved incredible results, a true testament to their professionalism and tenacity. I am very proud and humbled to be their leader.”

This patrol was also highlighted by engagement with the local communities during various port calls. Alert refurbished a library in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico during a community relations project. The library provides educational opportunities and a meeting place for the local residents.

The suspected cocaine seized by Alert crewmembers during the patrol was part of the 8.5 tons of contraband offloaded Monday in San Diego from the Coast Guard Cutter Steadfast.

The Coast Guard increased U.S. and allied presence in the Eastern Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Basin, which are known drug transit zones off of Central and South America, as part of its Western Hemisphere Strategy. During at-sea interdictions in international waters, a suspect vessel is initially detected and monitored by allied military or law enforcement personnel coordinated by Joint Interagency Task Force-South based in Key West, Florida. The law enforcement phase of counter-smuggling operations in the Eastern Pacific is conducted under the authority of the 11th Coast Guard District, headquartered in Alameda, California. The interdictions, including the actual boardings, are led and conducted by members of the U.S. Coast Guard.

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