Coast Guard nabs 2,300 pounds of cocaine off Panama

MIAMI — Coast Guard law-enforcement crews interdicted a go-fast vessel carrying 2,300 pounds of cocaine about 20 miles off the coast of Panama Tuesday morning.

The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Bear spotted a loaded go-fast vessel Tuesday around 5 a.m. while on a routine law-enforcement patrol in the Caribbean Sea.

An HH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew from the Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron in Jacksonville, Fla., embarked with the cutter Bear, was launched and used warning shots and then disabling fire to bring the vessel to a halt after the go-fast crew failed to comply with orders to stop. The suspected drug smugglers jettisoned their contraband, set fire to their vessel and then jumped overboard. All four suspected smugglers were rescued by the Coast Guard. One of the suspected smugglers suffered minor burns when they scuttled the vessel. A law-enforcement crew from the Bear recovered 46 bales that tested positive for cocaine and detained the four suspects. The go-fast vessel sank.

“Drug traffickers often endanger themselves and law-enforcement officers when they attempt to destroy evidence of their illicit activities,” said Capt. Steven Banks, Seventh Coast Guard District chief of enforcement. “The cutter Bear’s crew saved the lives of these four suspected smugglers who showed blatant disregard for their own safety and the safety of others.”

The four detainees and 46 bales of cocaine were turned over to Panamanian officials.

The Coast Guard Cutter Bear is a 270-foot medium-endurance cutter homeported in Portsmouth, Va.

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