SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico —Coast Guard, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Puerto Rico Police maritime law enforcement units interdicted and seized a drug smuggling vessel Monday with 1,608 kilograms of cocaine aboard and apprehended four suspected smugglers off the coast of Rio Grande.
The suspected smugglers, all men, have been turned over to the U.S. Department of Justice for prosecution by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Puerto Rico.
The interdiction was the result of ongoing, multi-agency and international law enforcement efforts in support of the Caribbean Corridor Strike Force, the Border Security Task Force Initiative, Operation Unified Resolve, Operation Caribbean Guard, and the DHS Joint Task Force – East.
While on patrol Sunday night, the crew of a Customs and Border Protection maritime patrol aircraft detected a 35-foot go-fast vessel transiting in the dark without the use of navigational lights in waters off Dorado. Watch standers at Coast Guard Sector San Juan diverted a Coast Guard 33-foot response boat and the Coast Guard Cutter Heriberto Hernandez to interdict the suspect vessel and launched an HC-144 Ocean Sentry aircraft to assist with aerial surveillance. Customs and Border Protection and Puerto Rico Police marine units also responded to interdict the go-fast.
Once on scene, the Coast Guard response boat and the CBP marine unit engaged in a high-speed pursuit of the go-fast. A CBP marine unit came upon and interdicted the go-fast vessel off the coast of Rio Grande.
Two of the suspected smugglers were arrested aboard the go-fast while two others, who jumped overboard during the pursuit, were recovered and apprehended by the crew of the Coast Guard response boat and the Puerto Rico Police maritime unit.
In all, 48 bales containing 1,449 bricks of cocaine weighing approximately 1,608 kilograms were field tested and yielded positive results to the presence of cocaine.
The contraband, detainees and seized go-fast were placed in the custody of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement-Homeland Security Investigations special agents in San Juan.
“These arrests are a clear indication of the continued success of the Caribbean Corridor Strike Force,” said Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico. “This is just another example of the fine work our state and federal law enforcement partners accomplish every day. With the continued collaboration and assistance of our law enforcement partners, we will continue our efforts to bring the most powerful and prolific drug organizations to justice.”
“The strong interagency partnerships, effective coordination and the rapid response displayed by all responding units resulted in the interdiction of this major drug shipment and the apprehension of the smugglers, who will now have their day in court,” said Capt. Robert Warren, Coast Guard Sector San Juan commander. “Our collective resolve and tireless efforts to interdict and stop drug smuggling vessels at sea is making a difference in providing for the security of our citizens in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.”
CCSF is an initiative of the U.S. Attorney’s Office created to disrupt and dismantle major drug trafficking organizations operating in the Caribbean. CCSF is part of the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area and Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force that investigates South American-based drug trafficking organizations responsible for the movement of multi-kilogram quantities of narcotics utilizing the Caribbean as a transshipment point for further distribution to the United States. The initiative is composed of HSI, U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Puerto Rico, Drug Enforcement Administration, FBI, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and Puerto Rico Police Department’s Unified Forces for Rapid Action.
The Coast Guard’s efforts under Operation Unified Resolve contribute to the interagency results being achieved locally under Operation Caribbean Guard, which coordinates efforts between the Coast Guard, DHS and the Commonwealth and Territorial law enforcement partners, who are working to deter, detect and disrupt illicit maritime trafficking to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
DHS Joint Task Force-East leads and coordinates, integrated and prioritized DHS cross-component operations and investigations leveraging DHS, interagency and partner nation capabilities to increase border security, reduce terrorism risk and dismantle illicit networks.