Coast Guard Cutter Bear to return to Portsmouth

PORTSMOUTH, Va. – The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Bear is scheduled to return to their homeport in Portsmouth Monday after a 60-day patrol in the Caribbean Sea.

The Bear’s crew patrolled the western and southern areas of the Caribbean Sea, engaging in counter-drug and illegal migrant interdiction operations.

Throughout the patrol, the Bear was equipped with an airborne-use-of-force capable MH-65C Dolphin helicopter from the Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron, based in Jacksonville, Fla.

The crew of the Bear partnered with Panamanian authorities, embarking an officer from the Panamanian National Air-Naval Service during the patrol. This partnership provided the Panamanian Air-Naval Service a glimpse of Coast Guard law-enforcement operations and shipboard life while allowing the Bear’s crew to enact bilateral agreements between the United States and Panama.

In the early morning of Sept. 1, while patrolling in the southern Caribbean, the Bear’s attached helicopter crew spotted a 30-foot go-fast vessel with four outboard engines traveling at a high speed 20 nautical miles off the coast of Panama.

After the go-fast vessel failed to respond to the helicopter crew’s radio calls, they fired warning shots ahead of the vessel in order to gain compliance. The vessel did not respond, and disabling fire was authorized in order to halt the go-fast and disable the engines. Shortly thereafter, the go-fast vessel stopped and caught fire, and the suspected smugglers jumped overboard.

The Bear’s law enforcement team rescued the four suspected smugglers and recovered 51 bales of cocaine, more than 3,200 pounds, with an estimated street value of more than $50 million.

Afterwards, the four suspects and cocaine were transferred to Panamanian authorities for further investigation.

The efforts of the Bear’s crew are part of the Coast Guard’s counter-drug strategy to reduce the supply of illicit drugs to the U.S. by denying drug traffickers access to maritime routes in the six-million square mile transit zone.

The Coast Guard and its interagency partners have had interdiction operations in the transit zone consisting of the Caribbean Sea and eastern Pacific Ocean, with 185 tons of cocaine seized, jettisoned, scuttled, or destroyed in 2008.

On Sept. 7, The Bear’s crew detected a 35-foot wooden sail freighter 33 miles northeast of Cuba with 164 Haitian migrants onboard. The vessel had been drifting in the open ocean for three days. The Bear’s crew rescued the migrants from the unstable wooden sailing vessel.

As the United States’ primary maritime law enforcement agency, the Coast Guard is tasked with enforcing immigration law at sea. The Coast Guard conducts patrols and coordinates with other federal agencies and foreign countries to interdict undocumented migrants at sea, denying them entry via maritime routes to the United States, its territories and possessions. Thousands of people try to enter this country illegally every year using maritime routes, many via smuggling operations, with 4,802 migrants interdicted in 2008.

The Bear is a 270-foot medium-endurance cutter homeported in Portsmouth.

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