HONOLULU – A Honolulu-based Coast Guard cutter returned from a 92-day deployment off the coast of Central and South America combating transnational organized crime networks Thursday morning.
The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Sherman (WHEC 720) interdicted nine suspected smuggling vessels, seized more than 13,730 pounds of cocaine worth over $205.9 million and apprehended more than two dozen suspects who will face prosecution in the U.S. The crew aboard Sherman also rendered lifesaving medical assistance to an injured fisherman 230 miles off of the Galapagos Islands Jan. 13.
“Sherman is getting ready to turn 50 in August (2018),” said Cmdr. Jerome Dubay, Sherman’s executive officer. “This is a 50-year old ship in theater doing the job, executing the mission. Sure the cutter still has the look and feel of the era it was built, but the crew keeps the equipment working; we are very successful in our ability to conduct the job we are sent here to do.”
This deployment was marked by near constant law enforcement operations for the crew of Sherman. This included four major cocaine interdictions in a 48-hour period resulting in the seizure of more than 4,624 pounds of illicit narcotics and apprehension of 12 suspected smugglers who will be prosecuted in the U.S.
The crew was flagged down by several fishing vessels off the coast of the Galapagos Islands after a fisherman aboard one of the vessels had suffered a stingray wound a few days earlier. The wound showed early symptoms of infection in a remote area hundreds of miles away from advanced medical care. The cutter’s corpsman, Chief Petty Officer Ky Le, cleaned the wound and provided the injured man antibiotics.
Sherman’s crew was part of a surge of Coast Guard forces to the drug transit zone off Central and South America to combat transnational organized crime organizations responsible for instability and violence throughout the Western Hemisphere. Coast Guardsmen can leverage military capabilities and law enforcement authorities to interdict bulk shipments of hard narcotics before they reach the U.S. Southern Border.
Since the surge in forces, there has been a significant rise in illicit drug interdictions by the Coast Guard in the Caribbean and Eastern Pacific Ocean. Most recently, the Coast Guard set a record for illicit drug removal by stopping more than 443,000 pounds of cocaine in Fiscal Year 2016, which ran from Oct. 1, 2015, to Sept. 30, 2016.
Sherman’s patrol was coordinated by Joint Interagency Task Force South, a component of U.S. Southern Command. The JIATF South team oversees the detection and monitoring of illicit traffickers and assists U.S. and multi-national law enforcement agencies with the interdiction of these illicit traffickers. This allowed Sherman’s crew to work with a variety of U.S. agencies from the departments of Defense, State, Justice and Homeland Security.