SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — The Coast Guard Cutter Richard Etheridge transferred custody of three Dominican Republic smugglers and 466 pounds of cocaine to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement Special Agents in San Juan, Puerto Rico Wednesday, following an at-sea interdiction Tuesday off the coast of Aguadilla, Puerto Rico.
The interdiction was the result of a multi-agency international law enforcement effort involving the U.S. Coast Guard working in coordination with the Dominican Republic Navy in support of Operation Unified Resolve, Operation Caribbean Guard and the Caribbean Corridor Strike Force. The drug shipment was estimated to have a wholesale value of approximately $7 million dollars.
“The strong coordination efforts between the Coast Guard and Dominican Republic authorities are key to this case and continued interdiction efforts, helping to bring those responsible to justice,” said Cmdr. Heather Kelly, Sector San Juan chief of response.
While on a routine patrol early Tuesday morning, the crew of a Coast Guard HC-144 Ocean Sentry aircraft from Coast Guard Air Station Miami detected the suspicious 20-foot boat travelling towards Puerto Rico. The detected vessel, carrying three people and what appeared to be multiple bales of contraband onboard, was transiting in the dark without the use of navigational lights. Watchstanders in Coast Guard Sector San Juan diverted the Coast Guard Cutter Richard Etheridge to interdict the suspect vessel.
Upon noticing the presence of law enforcement authorities in the area, the passengers onboard the suspect vessel proceeded to jettison their cargo overboard. Shortly thereafter, the Richard Etheridge’s small boat interdicted the vessel and apprehended the three suspected smugglers.
Immediately after stopping the vessel, the Richard Etheridge searched the area and the crew was able to locate and recover nine bales of suspected contraband. The suspected drug shipment tested positive for cocaine.
The cocaine and the suspected smugglers were transported to San Juan, Puerto Rico, where they were taken into custody by Immigration and Customs Enforcement-Homeland Security Investigations.
Since January 2014, the Coast Guard has seized 15,671 kilograms of cocaine and 5,320 pounds of marijuana during 16 counter-drug interdictions as part of Operation Unified Resolve. The wholesale value for these seizures is worth more than $524 million.
The Coast Guard’s efforts under Operation Unified Resolve contribute to the interagency results being achieved locally each and every day under Operation Caribbean Guard, which coordinates efforts between the Coast Guard, DHS and Commonwealth and Territorial law enforcement partners, who are working diligently to deter, detect and disrupt illicit maritime trafficking to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.