Drug Smuggler Injured by Shrapnel During Weekend Drug Bust

Alameda, Calif. — A crewmember of a suspected drug smuggling boat in the Eastern Pacific Ocean was medevaced to Buenaventura, Colombia in a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter on Sunday after he was injured apparently by shrapnel from shots fired by the Coast Guard to disable the boat’s engines.

The injured man was one of several people aboard a type of speed boat known as a “go fast” in international waters some 60 miles off the coast of Colombia when the craft was spotted by counter narcotics assets patrolling in the region. A U.S. Navy aircraft with a U. S. Coast Guard gunner aboard launched from a Navy ship, pursued the suspected smugglers, signaled the boat to stop, and fired warning shots in front of the “go fast” but the vessel’s crew, which had been observed throwing bales out of the boat, refused to stop.

The pursuit ended after approximately 20 minutes when the Coast Guard sharpshooter was authorized to direct disabling fire into the fleeing vessel’s engines to force the craft to halt. The tactic worked, and the vessel halted, but it was then discovered that one of the suspected smugglers was injured.

A Coast Guard boarding team, including an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), launched from the U.S. Navy ship. Upon arrival at the scene the injured man was treated by the EMT and steps were immediately taken to transfer him in the boarding team’s boat to the Navy ship for further treatment by the vessel’s medical staff. Once aboard the Navy ship it was determined suspect’s injuries warranted further transfer to a hospital ashore. A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter operating from a Coast Guard cutter on patrol in the area was dispatched to medevac the man to Buenaventura airport in coordination with Colombian authorities.

The U. S. Coast Guard and its counter drug partners take extraordinary steps to avoid injuring smuggling suspects even while Coast Guard and Navy crews risk their own lives to seize drugs and rescue suspects who often sink their own boats or jump into the sea. The details of this case will be thoroughly reviewed to ensure all appropriate safety procedures were followed.

Colombian and U. S. authorities worked closely on both the search and rescue aspects of this case and the subsequent search for contraband from the go-fast. Bales of cocaine from this boat have since been collected by representatives of both nations as evidence for future prosecution. The go-fast boat has not been located and is believed to have sunk.

As of Wednesday morning Colombuan authorities reported to the U. S. Coast Guard that the injured man was in stable condition.

U. S. Coast Guard records indicate there have been 63 interdiction cases where “disabling fire” from a helicopter was used to damage a fleeing boats’ engines since the tactic in first tested in the late 1990’s. Shrapnel injuries to smuggling boat crews in connection with this tactic are rare. Sunday’s incident was the fifth such case. Information on the extent of the injuries involved in the previous four was not immediately available.

The law enforcement phase of U. S. drug interdiction operations in the Eastern Pacific are conducted under the tactical control of the 11th Coast Guard District headquartered in Alameda, California.

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