Coast Guard Cutter Midgett returning to Seattle after seizing nearly six tons of cocaine

The deck of Coast Guard Midgett lined with stacks of interdicted contraband including 1,232 pounds of cocaine and 110 pounds of marijuana jettisoned by fleeing smugglers during a night-time pursuit in the Eastern Pacific Ocean near Central America May 6, 2015. (Coast Guard photo courtesy of Cmdr. Benjamin Berg)

The deck of Coast Guard Midgett lined with stacks of interdicted contraband including 1,232 pounds of cocaine and 110 pounds of marijuana  (Coast Guard photo by Cmdr. Benjamin Berg)

SEATTLE – The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Midgett will return to Pier 36 in Seattle Thursday at 10 a.m. following a 71-day counter-drug deployment in the Eastern Pacific Ocean off the coast of Central America.

During the deployment, law enforcement officers aboard Midgett interdicted seven drug-laden “panga” vessels in international waters, seized more than 12,100 pounds of cocaine worth an estimated $180 million wholesale and apprehended 22 suspected drug smugglers.

“This is the most successful counter-drug patrol I’ve experienced in more than 26 years of service,” said Capt. Brendan C. McPherson, Midgett’s commanding officer. “Our success is a testament to our resolve to help defeat the illicit networks that fuel instability within the region and threaten our neighbors. I couldn’t be more proud of the extraordinary professionalism and tactical prowess demonstrated by the Midgett crew.”

The crew of Midgett left Seattle Apr. 21 to patrol in support of Operation Martillo, a multi-national, interagency counter-drug operation in the Eastern Pacific region coordinated by Joint Interagency Task Force South in Key West, Fla. An armed MH-65 Dolphin helicopter from Coast Guard Helicopter Interdiction Squadron based in Jacksonville, Fla., was embarked aboard Midgett for part of the deployment.

“The U.S. faces significant risks to regional security and prosperity brought on by the rising threat of Transnational Organized Crime networks,” said Rear Adm. Meredith Austin, deputy commander, Coast Guard Pacific Area. “Criminal networks in the Western Hemisphere draw immense profits from drug trafficking, which the crew of Midgett has worked tirelessly to disrupt and combat.”

Coast Guardsmen aboard Midgett worked closely with various U.S. Navy, Customs and Border Protection and Coast Guard maritime patrol aircraft to locate and seize the drug shipments.

“By interdicting these illegal drug loads far offshore, before it can get into the pipeline within Central America, we not only protect our own U.S. border but also the maritime borders of our Western Hemisphere neighbors,” McPherson said.

A breakdown of drug interdictions by the crew of Midgett:

On May 5, a maritime patrol aircraft located a suspect vessel traveling at a high rate of speed approximately 140 nautical miles southwest of El Salvador. Midgett’s crew launched two boats to intercept the suspect panga vessel. Upon detection, the crew of the stateless vessel began to jettison bales of contraband. The cutter boat crews pursued the panga, employing warning shots and disabling fire into the outboard engines to stop the fleeing vessel. Three persons aboard were apprehended along with approximately 1,232 pounds of cocaine and 160 pounds of marijuana.

Three days later, on May 9, another maritime patrol aircraft located a suspect panga vessel in the same area. After a brief pursuit by the cutter’s boat crews, the suspect panga was stopped and boarded. Officers discovered 31 bales containing approximately 1,320 pounds of cocaine. Three persons aboard the panga were apprehended.

On May 26, another maritime patrol aircraft located a suspect panga travelling in excess of 20 knots. The crew launched their embarked armed helicopter aircrew along with their two boats to intercept the suspect vessel. After observing the panga jettison bales into the water, the helicopter employed warning shots and disabling fire into the outboard engines to stop the fleeing vessel. The boarding team recovered 32 bales containing approximately 1,650 pounds of cocaine and apprehended 3 suspected smugglers. A second suspect panga was located by the same maritime patrol aircraft while the first vessel was being interdicted by one of Midgett’s boat crews. A second cutter boat intercepted the second suspect panga, simultaneously with the first interdiction, and quickly gained positive control after observing the vessel jettison bales of suspected contraband. Six bales containing approximately 264 pounds of cocaine was recovered and 3 persons were apprehended.

On May 31, another suspected panga was located and stopped utilizing warning shots and disabling fire from the armed helicopter resulting in the seizure of 29 bales of contraband containing approximately1,628 pounds of cocaine and the apprehension of 4 suspected smugglers. Later that day, another suspect panga was interdicted after being disabled by the cutter’s armed helicopter. Thirty-six bales of contraband containing approximately 1,738 pounds of cocaine were seized and 3 suspected smugglers were apprehended in that case.

On June 6, the crew of Midgett interdicted another suspect panga vessel in the Eastern Pacific after it was located by a maritime patrol aircraft. Both cutter boats were launched to pursue the vessel. After a brief chase, a boat crew on one of the cutter boats used warning shots to signal the vessel to stop. Once stopped, Coast Guard officers observed 12 bales containing approximately 1,452 pounds of cocaine in plain sight within the vessel. The contraband was seized and 3 suspected drug smugglers were apprehended.

In addition to the contraband seized during the seven interdictions, the crew of Midgett recovered an additional 29 bales of contraband containing more than 2,585 pounds of cocaine abandoned in the water in the Eastern Pacific.

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