Coast Guard Turns Over $50 Million Worth of Drugs

MAYPORT, Fla. – The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Northland turned over approximately 2,400 pounds of cocaine to federal agents in Mayport Monday at 8:30 a.m., following an at sea interdiction with the help of the Jacksonville-Based Coast Guard Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron near Guajira, Colombia, March 10.

The transfer comes after Northland’s third go-fast interdiction in as many weeks, yielding a total of 55 bales of cocaine and four bales of heroin with a total estimated street value of $50 million. Additionally, 11 suspected smugglers, and five persons suspected of supporting drug trafficking, have been transferred to federal agents as a result of Northland’s law-enforcement actions.

The March 10 interdiction began when the aircrew from HITRON in Jacksonville deployed with the cutter Northland and patrolling the waters near the Guajira Peninsula, noticed a suspicious vessel sitting idle.

The vessel began to flee and ignored orders from the aircrew to stop. The helicopter crew brought the vessel to a halt after they employed warning shots and then disabling fire directed at the engine compartment.

The aircrew observed the vessel taking on water and deployed a life raft to the people on board. Once Northland arrived on scene, crews launched a small boat to rescue the five men and then recover 41 bales of cocaine.

“This has been a highly successful counter narco-terrorism patrol for the ship, crew and the nation; I am really proud of this crew and HITRON,” said Cmdr. Christopher Austin, commanding officer of Northland. “The HITRON-cutter package is an outstanding tool in the war on drugs, our success this deployment has kept close to 2,000 kilos of cocaine and heroin off the streets.”

Recently, the Coast Guard set a record for the most cocaine removed for the first quarter of a fiscal year. From Oct. 1, 2006, until Jan.1, 2007, the Coast Guard removed 97,635 pounds of the drug, eclipsing the previous high of 76,925 pounds set during the first quarter of last year.

The cocaine seized to date in fiscal year 2007 exceeds the yearly totals of all but three of the last 15 fiscal years.

The Northland is a 270-foot cutter from Portsmouth, Va., that routinely deploys to the Caribbean Sea more than six months a year to conduct law enforcement, search and rescue, humanitarian, and national defense missions.

The HITRON is based at Cecil Field in Jacksonville conducting routine training along the St. Johns River and off the coast of Jacksonville’s beaches. HITRON crews deploy on cutters patrolling known drug transit zones in the Caribbean Sea and Eastern Pacific Ocean to stop go fast smuggling boats.

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