Coast Guard, Columbia navy partner interdict 7.5 metric tons of drugs

A Coast Guard Cutter Vigilant Over the Horizon boat crew approaches a 72-foot motor vessel approximately 46 miles northeast of Panama, June 8, 2020. (Coast Guard Photo)

A Coast Guard Cutter Vigilant Over the Horizon boat crew approaches a 72-foot motor vessel approximately 46 miles northeast of Panama, June 8, 2020. (Coast Guard Photo)

MIAMI — The Coast Guard and partner agencies interdicted approximately 1,500 packages testing positive for cocaine on a 72-foot motor vessel approximately 46 miles northeast of Panama, June 8, 2020.

While on routine patrol, a Coast Guard HC-130 Maritime Patrol Aircraft crew detected a suspect motor vessel traveling northeast of Panama. The Coast Guard Cutter Vigilant (WMEC 617) crew launched an Over the Horizon small boat with an embarked law enforcement team, who proceeded to board the vessel and discovered the vessel was taking on water.

The cutter Vigilant sent a rescue and assistance team aboard, who were able to contain the source of flooding at the request of the motor vessel crew. The cutter Vigilant’s law enforcement team continued the boarding and discovered general cargo that was suspected of containing contraband. After completing the initial boarding, the Vigilant crew recommended a further inspection be completed in port due to sea-state and safety concerns and to more fully access the cargo and cargo holds.

Coordinating with Colombian authorities, the cutter Vigilant crew placed the motor vessel, which had experienced a mechanical problem, in tow and transferred the vessel to the Colombian coast guard and navy. The Colombian navy continued the boarding pier side and discovered over 16,700 lbs. of suspected contraband. Lab test reports yielded positive hits for cocaine, which validated both the efforts of the Vigilant crew and the Colombian partners. As final lab testing continues, this drug seizure is predicted to be worth up to $286 million.

“Despite the various challenges our crew faced during this multi-day boarding, they demonstrated the utmost professionalism and resiliency, identifying numerous indicators of contraband in arduous conditions while preserving the seaworthiness of the vessel,” said Cmdr. Fred Bertsch, commanding officer of the Vigilant. “We are extremely appreciative of the coordination and substantial efforts undertaken by our Colombian partners to continue the law enforcement efforts where we left off. As transnational criminal organizations continue to adapt their techniques and procedures, we will continue to work with our partner nations to thwart their illicit activities is the region.”

On April 1, U.S. Southern Command began enhanced counter-narcotics operations in the Western Hemisphere to disrupt the flow of drugs in support of Presidential National Security Objectives. Numerous U.S. agencies from the Departments of Defense, Justice and Homeland Security cooperated in the effort to combat transnational organized crime. The Coast Guard, Navy, Customs and Border Protection, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Drug Enforcement Administration, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, along with allied and international partner agencies, play a role in counter-drug operations.

“As we address the persistent threats our Nation faces across our maritime approaches, the success of this highly collaborative operation speaks to the value of our relationship with our valued international partner, Colombia, and of the mutual successes we achieve when we coordinate our efforts,” said Rear Adm. Eric C. Jones, commanding officer of the Seventh District. “We look forward to continuing to build and strengthen our relationships with other Caribbean Basin nations as we strive to be the regional partner of choice.”

The fight against drug cartels in the Caribbean Sea requires unity of effort in all phases from detection, monitoring and interdictions, to criminal prosecutions by international partners and U.S. Attorneys Offices in districts across the nation. The law enforcement phase of counter-smuggling operations in the Caribbean Sea is conducted under the authority of the Coast Guard 7th District, headquartered in Miami, Florida. The interdictions, including the actual boardings, are led and conducted by members of the U.S. Coast Guard.

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