Coast Guard Cutter Sherman seizes 703 pounds of cocaine and takes custody of smugglers

EASTERN PACIFIC OCEAN – The crew of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Sherman apprehended four suspected drug smugglers after pursuing and interdicting a “go-fast” vessel approximately 48 miles south of Panama, May 27, 2012.

A maritime patrol aircraft spotted the vessel moving at a high rate of speed. The Sherman altered course to intercept, deployed law enforcement teams aboard two interdiction boats, and launched an embarked MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew, which is deployed from the Coast Guard’s Jacksonville, Fla.-based Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron.

The go-fast conducted evasive maneuvers and began jettisoning packages once the helicopter was overhead. One law enforcement team diverted to recover the seven bales, which tested positive for cocaine, while the second team and the helicopter crew maintained pursuit.

The helicopter crew used non-lethal force to disable the go-fast’s engines, causing it to stop. The Coast Guard crew then took the four people aboard into custody. The Sherman’s crew sank the vessel to prevent it from becoming a hazard to navigation.

The Coast Guard transferred the detainees and the seven recovered bales to a U.S. Navy vessel, which continued to search the area, recovering an additional 12 bales for a total of 703 pounds seized with a valuation of more than $8.6 million.

“The success of this mission is due in large part to the crew’s hard work and dedication to training and the Coast Guard’s missions,” said Capt. Joseph F. Hester III, commander of the Coast Guard Cutter Sherman. “Safely coordinating air and surface assets in this dangerous and dynamic environment takes great skill and determination. Maintaining a ready fleet of cutters with long-range capabilities ensures we stay on offense and keep illicit narcotics out of our neighborhoods.”

“It takes an incredible amount of training and teamwork to safely use non-lethal force against a maneuvering go-fast vessel at night,” said Capt. Donna L. Cottrell, commanding officer of HITRON. “The cutter, helicopter, and maritime patrol aircraft work in concert to stop these vessels and keep the drugs from reaching U. S. soil.”

The Sherman is a 378-foot high endurance cutter homeported in San Diego. With a crew of approximately 170, the Sherman’s missions include search and rescue, homeland security, drug and migrant interdiction, marine environmental protection, fisheries enforcement and maritime law enforcement.

The 44-year-old Sherman and all Secretary-class, high endurance cutters, are being replaced by eight Legend-class, National Security Cutters. The NSCs are faster, better equipped, more durable, safer and more efficient than their predecessors, and will allow the Coast Guard to deliver its unique blend of military capability, law enforcement authority and lifesaving expertise wherever needed to protect American interests, today and for decades to come.

HITRON forward deploys armed helicopters to high-threat drug trafficking and high-risk security areas in support of the U.S. counter-narcotics mission. HITRON helicopters will intercept suspect targets and vector cutters or interdiction vessels to the scene for apprehension.

The Joint Interagency Task Force, South, a component of the U.S. Southern Command, is responsible for the overall coordination of the counter-drug mission in the Eastern Pacific. U.S. maritime law enforcement and the interdiction phase of operations in the region occurs under the tactical control of the 11th Coast Guard District, based in Alameda, Calif., or by law enforcement agencies of partner nations in the region.

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