Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf returns home after $539 million cocaine offload

Pallets of seized suspected contraband sit on the deck of the Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf prior to being offloaded by Bertholf’s crew at B Street Pier, San Diego, March 20, 2018. Over 36,000 pounds of cocaine was seized in 17 interdictions by five different cutters in the Eastern Pacific between February and early March. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Fireman Taylor Bacon/released).

Pallets of seized suspected contraband sit on the deck of the Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf prior to being offloaded by Bertholf’s crew at B Street Pier, San Diego, March 20, 2018.  (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Fireman Taylor Bacon).

ALAMEDA, Calif. — The crew aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf returned Wednesday to their homeport of Alameda following a 77-day counterdrug patrol in the Eastern Pacific Ocean.

Bertholf supported the Joint Interagency Task Force-South (JIATF-S) during the deployment operating in international waters off the coast of the Central and South America.

The Bertholf’s crewmembers boarded and seized a low profile go fast vessel (LPGFV) and three fishing vessels carrying narcotics during the patrol. The multiple boardings resulted in the seizure of 5,045 pounds of cocaine and seven gallons of liquid cocaine with an estimated street value of more than $78 million wholesale.

LPGFVs are camouflaged and designed by transnational organized crime networks to ride low in the water in an effort to evade detection by law enforcement agencies. The interdiction of the LPGFV was executed by crewmembers of the Bertholf and supported by members from the Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron, Pacific Tactical Law Enforcement Team and an Air Station Humboldt Bay aircrew.

The recent deployment tested the stamina and flexibility of Bertholf’s crew. The crew interdicted a fishing vessel towing four panga’s in the middle of the night. After 12 hours of searching the vessel, the boarding team found liquid cocaine in a concealed compartment within one of the pangas.

The Bertholf crew offloaded nearly 36,000 pounds of cocaine Tuesday, worth more than $539 million wholesale in San Diego. The offload represented 17 separate interdictions made by the Coast Guard Cutters Bertholf, Diligence, Harriet Lane, Venturous and Bear since Feb. 8.

“The transnational organized crime groups behind the drug trade spread instability, fear, and harm to people, communities and entire nations,” said Capt. John Driscoll, Bertholf’s commanding officer. “This load of seized contraband denies traffickers about half a billion dollars’ worth of illicit proceeds that would have gone to fund the nefarious work of transnational criminal organizations, and this seizure helps prevent a great deal of human suffering, and will likely save hundreds of lives that would have been lost to these illegal drugs. I’m proud of the hard work and dedication of my crew, as well as the crews of Coast Guard Cutters Bear, Diligence, Harriet Lane, Venturous and the joint and interagency personnel who work hand-in-hand to secure our nation.”

As part of its Western Hemisphere Strategy, the Coast Guard increased its presence in known drug transit zones in the Eastern Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea. During at-sea interdictions in international waters, a suspect vessel is initially located and tracked by U.S. and allied, military or law enforcement personnel. The interdictions, including the actual boardings, are conducted by U.S. Coast Guard members.

Joint Interagency Task Force South, a National Task Force under U.S. Southern Command, oversees the detection and monitoring of illicit traffickers and assists U.S. and multi-national law enforcement agencies with interdiction of these activities. These law enforcement operations are led and conducted by the U.S. Coast Guard and/or agencies from partner nations, under the tactical control of the 11th Coast Guard District in Alameda. The 11th District encompasses the Southwestern U.S. and coastal waters, as well as offshore waters from California to South America.

The Bertholf is the first of the Legend Class National Security Cutters. The 418-foot cutter is staffed by a 148-person crew. Bertholf is one of four National Security Cutters homeported in Alameda. National Security Cutters are designed for approximately 100-day deployments and can carry out missions such as law enforcement, search and rescue, fisheries management and drug interdictions from the Bering Sea to the Eastern Pacific Ocean.

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