Coast Guard Cutter Venturous returns home after Eastern Pacific patrol

Family and friends of the Coast Guard Cutter Venturous crew wave to crewmembers returning home to St. Petersburg, Florida, Saturday, March 17, 2018. The crew of the Venturous returned to homeport after a 60-day counter-drug patrol in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Michael De Nyse)

Family and friends of the Coast Guard Cutter Venturous crew wave to crewmembers returning home to St. Petersburg, Florida, Saturday, March 17, 2018.  (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Michael De Nyse)

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The crew of Coast Guard Cutter Venturous returned to St. Petersburg Saturday following a 60-day counter-drug patrol in the Eastern Pacific Ocean.

The crew, supplemented by seven members from the Coast Guard’s Pacific Tactical Law Enforcement Team (PACTACLET), transited more than 11,000 miles through the Panama Canal patrolling waters west of Central America, South America, and Mexico in support of Joint Interagency Task Force-South (JIATF-S), a National Task Force headquartered in Key West. JIATF-S oversees the detection of illicit trafficking in the Eastern Pacific and Caribbean and assists U.S. and partner nation law enforcement agencies with interdicting such activity.

During the patrol, the Venturous crew interdicted two high speed suspected smuggling vessels, resulting in the apprehension of five suspected smugglers and recovery of more than 4,200 pounds of cocaine, a wholesale value of more than $56 million.

To accomplish their counter-drug mission, the Venturous crew worked with numerous agencies from the Departments of Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security in a combined effort to combat transnational organized crime in support of the Coast Guard’s Western Hemisphere Strategy. The law enforcement portion of these interdiction operations in the Eastern Pacific are led and conducted by U.S. Coast Guard personnel and occur under the tactical control of the Eleventh Coast Guard District in Alameda, California.

In addition to performing the counter narcotics mission, the Venturous crew also rescued three fishermen who were drifting for several days on their disabled fishing vessel thousands of miles from shore without food or water.

“I’m incredibly proud of the extraordinary skill, teamwork, dedication, and adaptability displayed by the Venturous crew over the last two months,” said Cmdr. Matthew Chong, commanding officer of the Venturous. “Not only did they prevent over two tons of cocaine from reaching the United States, their actions will help in the continued effort to dismantle the transnational criminal organizations that attempted to bring these drugs to our country and continue to propagate violence and lawlessness throughout the region.”

While on patrol, crewmembers completed two feats considered to be “bucket list” items for many mariners and sea-going professionals. The crew transited the Panama Canal and crossed the equator. Seventy crewmembers crossed the equator for the first time and took part in a time-honored tradition known as a Line Crossing Ceremony. Those who had crossed the equator, known as ‘shellbacks’, carried out a 24-hour long ceremony to foster camaraderie while serving at sea and indoctrinate ‘pollywogs’, those who had not yet crossed the equator.

Just prior to pulling into homeport, the Venturous crew led a three-day Deck Qualification Landing (DLQ) Roundup, off the coast of Clearwater. Several members from five separate Coast Guard Cutters, personnel from two different Coast Guard Air Stations and the Coast Guard Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron (HITRON) used the Venturous flight deck to practice landings, on-deck and in-flight refueling, and at sea replenishment operations.

In total, crewmembers and aircrew completed 258 evolutions, including over 100 evolutions at night, many in complete darkness, using only night vision goggles during the three-day roundup.

“Landing helicopters on cutters is one of the most dangerous evolutions the Coast Guard conducts,” said Lt. Mark Tatara, operations officer aboard the Venturous. “Therefore, DLQ roundups are extremely important in order to hone the skills necessary to safely complete these evolutions.”

The Venturous is a 210-foot Reliance class Medium Endurance Cutter homeported in St. Petersburg, and has a crew compliment of 76. The decades-old medium endurance cutters are slated for replacement by a new class of cutter – the Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC). With the ability to operate more than 50 miles from land, the OPC will be a multi-mission ship, providing pursuit boat and helicopter capabilities and interoperability with other military and federal partners.

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