ALAMEDA, Calif. — A crewmember of a vessel suspected of illicit trafficking activity in the Eastern Pacific Ocean died Tuesday night during the U.S. Coast Guard’s pursuit and interdiction of the boat some 200 miles off the west coast of Isla de Coco, Costa Rica. The exact cause of death is not known and is under investigation.
A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter, operating from a Coast Guard cutter patrolling the area, pursued the suspicious vessel. The helicopter signaled the vessel to stop but it failed to do so. Pursuant to Coast Guard procedures, a precision marksman aboard the helicopter then fired warning shots in front of the vessel, which were ignored by the vessel’s crew. The marksman then fired rounds into the vessel’s outboard engines, disabling the vessel and bringing the pursuit to a halt.
Once the suspect vessel stopped, a Coast Guard law enforcement team from the cutter boarded the vessel and discovered an injured suspect, who later died.
“Our efforts to stem the flow of illegal drugs are inherently dangerous. We go to extraordinary lengths to minimize the chance of injury during these operations,” said Rear Adm. Todd Sokalzuk, Commander of the 11th Coast Guard District. “It is regrettable that in this case the crewmembers did not heed multiple orders and warnings to stop their vessel, causing us to employ tactics necessary to disable their engines. Unfortunately, one of the crewmembers was fatally injured during this interdiction,” he said.
An investigation is underway to review the details of Tuesday’s interdiction and determine what caused the suspected smuggler’s fatal injuries.
In 2015, a record 109 metric tons of cocaine and 316 suspects were interdicted in the Eastern Pacific by the U.S. Coast Guard and partner agencies. In fiscal year 2016, the record pace of interdictions continues, with over 132 tons seized, and 410 suspects taken into custody.