ALAMEDA, Calif. — The U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Customs and Border Protection interdicted approximately 15,000 pounds of cocaine and detained four suspects from a self-propelled semi-submersible vessel in international waters of the Eastern Pacific Ocean off the coast of Mexico Aug. 31.
A CBP Office of Air and Marine P-3 Maritime Patrol Aircraft tracked the 50-foot vessel while on routine patrol in the region. The Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf, also on patrol in the area, was alerted to the suspicious vessel.
The cutter launched two Over-the-Horizon Long-Range Interceptor boat crews to intercept and board the vessel. Upon approach of the boarding teams, four suspected smugglers exited the hull. Boarding team members retrieved bales and loose bricks of contraband from the semi-submersible that tested positive for cocaine.
“Every load of cocaine stopped at sea impacts the operation of transnational criminal organizations that spread violence, instability and death wherever they operate,” said Lt. Cmdr. Joseph Giammanco of the 11th Coast Guard District law enforcement branch. “It takes a dedicated, well-coordinated team to accomplish this dangerous and important mission. We’re proud of our crews and thankful for our strong partnership with Customs and Border Protection,” he said.
The seized contraband is worth an estimated $227 million. After the suspected smugglers and contraband were removed from the semi-submersible the craft was sunk as a hazard to navigation.
“This interdiction exemplifies our commitment to combat illicit activity before it reaches the coastline,” said John Wassong, Director of Air Operations at the National Air Security Operations Center-Corpus Christi. “We are dedicated to working with our interagency partners in the maritime environment.”
Overall coordination of counter-drug patrols and surveillance in the Eastern Pacific is done by a joint interagency 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.