Coast Guard, Navy interdict, seize $331 million of cocaine

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SAN DIEGO — More than eight and half tons of cocaine seized or recovered in fourteen interdictions in international waters of the Eastern Pacific Ocean were offloaded from the USS Vandergrift (FFG 48) Friday and turned over to federal officials as evidence in the prosecution of suspected smugglers.

Another two tons of contraband seized in five additional cases in the Eastern Pacific region were brought ashore in Florida Thursday by Coast Guard cutters.

All of the contraband, worth an estimated $331-million, was intercepted between mid-September and early December by U.S. Coast Guard law-enforcement teams operating from U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Navy ships patrolling off the coast of Central and South America.

“Every load of cocaine stopped at sea represents lives saved here at home, and resources denied to the trans-national criminal organizations behind the smuggling,” said Rear Admiral Joseph Servidio, Commander of the 11th Coast Guard District. “I am inspired by the dedication, tenacity, and perseverance of our Coast Guard, Navy, and partner agency crews who risk their lives to curtail the flow of illegal drugs and help keep our nation secure. Their hard work coupled with cooperation and assistance of partner nations in the region led to results we can measure in tons, as well as arrests that will degrade drug trafficking networks, and serves as a model for future success,” he said.

Of the cocaine offloaded in San Diego, Vandergrift and their Coast Guard law enforcement detachment were responsible for intercepting six loads from suspicious vessels or drifting at sea. The USS Gary (FFG 51) and their Coast Guard team accounted for four loads, the Coast Guard Cutter Boutwell had two, and the cutters Sherman and Alert each had one.

Of the cocaine loads taken to Florida, the Coast Guard Cutter Legare seized one, and Vandergrift and Gary each intercepted two.

The busts are a result of an ongoing effort dubbed Operation Martillo, a joint, international law enforcement and military operation involving the U.S., European and Western Hemisphere partner nations, targeting illicit-trafficking routes in the waters off Central America.

Overall coordination of counter-drug patrols and surveillance in the Eastern Pacific is done by a joint agency task force headquartered in Key West, Florida. U.S. maritime law enforcement and the interdiction phase of operations in the region occur under the tactical control of the 11th Coast Guard District headquartered in Alameda, California.

Vandergrift’s accomplishments occurred during her last operational deployment adding a notable chapter to the ship’s history. “I am extremely proud of this ship and this crew,” said Cmdr. Kevin Ralston, Vandegrift’s commanding officer. “USS Vandegrift’s superior performance and exceptional operational success during this seven month deployment were nothing short of outstanding. The ship’s crew, Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron Light (HSL) 49 Air Detachment Three, and embarked U.S. Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachments have proven themselves to be a highly effective and mission focused team. This team closed out Vandegrift’s operational life in a manner which our ship’s namesake and all former crew members would be proud,” he said.

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