Coast Guard, federal law enforcement authorities interdict $29 million dollar cocaine shipment

d7SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — The Coast Guard, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) seized a 989 kilograms (2,176 pounds) cocaine shipment and apprehended thirteen men following an at-sea interdiction of a delivery vessel and coastal freighter, approximately eight nautical miles off the coast of Manatí, Puerto Rico Feb. 3, 2015.

Two of the suspected smugglers from the delivery vessel, both of Venezuelan nationality, were charged in a criminal complaint authorized by U.S. Magistrate Camille Vélez-Rivé with conspiracy to import the aforementioned cocaine shipment. The seized cocaine shipment was estimated to have a street value of approximately $29 million dollars.

The suspects apprehended aboard the 267-foot St. Vincent and Grenadines flag coastal freighter Atlantic VII were comprised of four Dominican Republic nationals, four Cubans, one Peruvian, one Panamanian and an Ecuadorian. The 11 suspects from the Atlantic VII were also charged with conspiracy to import a controlled substance into the United States.

Federal law enforcement authorities involved in the interdiction were working in support of the Caribbean Border Interagency Group’s (CBIG) Operation Caribbean Guard and the Caribbean Corridor Strike Force.

“Our partnerships and interagency coordination between federal and regional law enforcement authorities allow for the successful interdiction of major drug shipments and bringing those responsible to justice,” said Cmdr. Heather Kelly, Sector San Juan chief of response. “Our commitment to securing the Nation’s Caribbean maritime border is unwavering as is our resolve to protect the safety and security of the citizens in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands from this threat.”

While on routine patrol the evening of Tuesday, February 3, 2015, the crew of a Customs and Border Protection DCH-8 maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) detected the Atlantic VII hovering outside U.S. territorial waters, and launching a small delivery vessel laden with suspicious packages. Once launched, the delivery vessel headed southbound, towards the northern coast of Puerto Rico, without any navigational lights. A Coast Guard Station San Juan 45-foot Response Boat Medium, a 33-foot Special Purpose Craft-Law Enforcement (SPC-LE), and CPB Office of Air and Marine operations marine unit vessels interdicted the smuggler’s delivery vessel.

The CBP MPA maintained constant surveillance as the Coast Guard 45-foot RBM and 33-foot SPC-LE arrived on scene and intercepted the vessel. The Coast Guard crews observed 33 bales of suspected contraband in plain sight, and subsequently detained the two suspected smugglers on board. Shortly thereafter, the CBP marine unit arrived on scene and the crew assisted with the offload of contraband. A further inspection and testing of the suspected drug shipment revealed the contraband to be cocaine.

Meanwhile, having observed this mothership activity, the Coast Guard Cutter Valiant interdicted and boarded the Atlantic VII, Wednesday morning, approximately 11 nautical miles from Puerto Rico as it attempted to flee the area.

The cocaine shipment, the detained smugglers, and the delivery vessel were transported to Coast Guard Sector San Juan, and transferred to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) -Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Special Agents for further investigation. The Atlantic VII and detained crew were brought to the Port of Ponce, Puerto Rico, for further investigation and the detained crew was transferred to custody of ICE-HSI Special Agents.

“Once again the combined efforts of federal law enforcement agencies resulted in the seizure of millions of dollars’ worth of narcotics. Our message continues to be the same: we will detect and interdict drug smugglers attempting to flood our island with their poisonous cargo,” said Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico. “These arrests are a clear indication of the continued success of the Caribbean Corridor Strike Force.”

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