Coast Guard Cutter Bear returns to homeport

PORTSMOUTH, Va. – The Coast Guard Cutter Bear returns to its home-port here Thursday morning after a 56-day patrol in the Caribbean Sea.

Under the direction of the Joint Inter Agency Task Force – South, the crew of the Bear patrolled in the western and southern portions of the Caribbean Sea and was actively engaged in stemming the flow of illegal narcotics smuggling in the Caribbean. Throughout the patrol, Bear’s crew was equipped with an Airborne Use of Force capable MH-65C helicopter from the Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron, based out of Jacksonville, Fla.

Bear’s crew was diverted off the coast of Mayport, Fla., May 17 for a search-and-rescue case involving an overdue vessel with three people aboard, one of whom was an active duty Navy sailor. After 40 hours of searching by numerous Coast Guard and Navy assets spanning an area from Mayport to Savannah, Ga., the three missing people were found adrift near Brunswick, Ga., after their vessel had capsized in heavy weather.

Throughout the patrol, the crew of the Bear was involved in counter-drug operations with Central and South American countries, helping reduce drug smuggling opportunities and strengthening the bonds between the U.S. and nations in the Caribbean basin. Bear’s crew initiated four go-fast pursuit cases which resulted in three interdiction’s, and the resultant seizures and detention of 10 suspected smugglers who were handed over to Honduran and Nicaraguan naval forces for further prosecution.

On June 12, while patrolling in the western Caribbean and working under the tactical control of the Seventh Coast Guard District and JIATF-S, the crew of the Bear detected a fast moving contact and launched its HITRON MH-65C helicopter aircrew to further investigate. This helicopter spotted a 45-foot go-fast vessel with three outboard engines traveling at high speeds, approximately 30 miles off the coast of Nicaragua. After the go-fast vessel failed to respond to the helicopter’s radio calls, the helicopter fired warning shots ahead of the vessel in order to gain compliance. The go-fast vessel stopped and its crew began throwing items overboard. A law- enforcement boarding team from the Bear arrived on scene shortly thereafter and immediately took positive control over the go-fast vessel and its crew. Bear’s crew recovered the items thrown overboard and discovered more than $100,000 U.S. dollars in suspected narcotics trade related money, and subsequently took the four person crew into custody for prosecution in the U.S.

On June 16, the crew of the Bear discovered a Colombian fishing vessel anchored in the western Caribbean and received permission from Colombia to board the vessel. A law- enforcement boarding team from the Bear discovered a hidden compartment that contained 70 kilograms of cocaine. The law-enforcement boarding team took the fishing vessel’s five-person crew into custody for prosecution in the U.S.

The efforts of Bear’s crew are part of the Coast Guard’s counter-drug strategy to reduce the supply of illicit drugs to the U.S. by denying drug traffickers access to maritime routes in the six-million square mile transit zone. The Coast Guard and its interagency partners have seen significant interdiction successes in the transit zone consisting of the Caribbean Sea and eastern Pacific Ocean, with more than 15,634 pounds of marijuana and 36,460 pounds of cocaine being seized or disrupted to date in 2010.

The cutter Bear is a 270-feet medium endurance cutter homeported in Portsmouth, Va.

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