Coast Guard, Royal Netherlands Navy, U.S. law enforcement seize $24 million cocaine shipment in Caribbean Sea

Southeastern Coast Guard News
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – The Coast Guard, Royal Netherlands Navy and U.S. law enforcement partners seized 1,517 pounds of cocaine, a go-fast vessel and detained three Dominican smugglers, during an at-sea interdiction June 11, 2013 in the Caribbean Sea.

The drug shipment is estimated to have a wholesale value of more than $24 million dollars.

The interdiction was a result of an international multi-agency law enforcement effort in support of Operation Unified Resolve, Operation Caribbean Guard and the Caribbean Corridor Strike Force.

The crew of a patrolling Coast Guard Air Station Miami HC-144 Ocean Sentry marine surveillance aircraft detected during the afternoon of June 11, 2013, three men aboard a suspicious go-fast vessel loitering, approximately 105 nautical miles south southeast of Ponce, Puerto Rico. A Coast Guard HC-144 Ocean Sentry and HC-130 Hercules along with a U.S. Customs and Border Protection P-3 fixed-wing aircraft maintained surveillance as watchstanders in Coast Guard Sector San Juan diverted the Coast Guard Cutter Sapelo to interdict the suspect vessel. The Royal Netherlands Navy HNLMS Holland Offshore Patrol Vessel, on patrol in the Caribbean Sea with a U.S. Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment (LEDET) onboard, also responded upon being alerted.

The HNLMS Holland arrived on scene with the suspect vessel, launched their high-speed pursuit boats to interdict the go-fast. Upon being detected, the suspected smugglers began to flee the area at a high rate of speed and jettisoned multiple bales of suspected contraband overboard. With the HNLMS Holland’s boats in pursuit, the smugglers came to a full stop. The U.S. Coast Guard LEDET proceeded to board the suspect vessel and detain the three men onboard.

The Sapelo arrived on-scene shortly thereafter and began searching alongside the HNLMS Holland, with aerial support from Air Station Miami HC-144 Ocean Sentry, Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater C-130, and Coast Guard Air Station Borinquen MH-65 Dolphin aircrafts, to find the bales of contraband that had been jettisoned into the water.

The HNLMS Holland initially located and recovered seven of the jettisoned bales from the water. The crew of the Air Station Miami HC-144 Ocean Sentry located 13 additional bales and vectored in the HNLMS Holland to recover 11 of the bales, and the Sapelo, to recover the remaining two. In total, 20 bales of contraband were seized weighing over 1,517 pounds.

The crew of the Sapelo and HNLMS Holland conducted field tests which revealed the suspected contraband to be cocaine.

The Coast Guard LEDET transferred the detainees and the HNLMS Holland transferred the bales of contraband to the Sapelo for transport to Puerto Rico, while the suspect vessel was destroyed as a hazard to navigation.

The Sapelo transferred the detainees and the cocaine shipment to awaiting Customs and Border Protection officers and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) special agents in Ponce, Puerto Rico June 13, 2013. ICE-Homeland Security Investigations is leading a criminal investigation into this case.

“Our local, federal and international partnerships are making a difference to stem the flow of drugs into Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands as far as possible and bring those responsible to justice,” said Coast Guard Capt. Drew Pearson, Sector San Juan commander. “Our commitment and resolve to protect our coasts and the citizens of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands from the threats that come from the sea is unwavering.”

“These arrests and multi-kilogram seizure are a clear indication of the success of the Caribbean Corridor Strike Force Initiative,” said Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico. “We will continue maximizing all of our combined resources to investigate and prosecute those who in flagrant disregard of our laws and way of life try to smuggle illegal contraband into our area of jurisdiction.”

“This recent interdiction shows again that cooperation at sea is extremely important for counter-drug operations”, said Cmdr. RNLN Chris van den Berg, commanding officer of HNLMS Holland. “Not only interagency cooperation between the U.S. Coast Guard and the Royal Netherlands Navy, but also multinational cooperation between the United States and the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Together we can make a difference”

Since May 21, 2012, the Coast Guard has seized, under Operation Unified Resolve, in partnership with regional law enforcement authorities in the Caribbean, 31,400 pounds of cocaine and 8,500 pounds of marijuana during 18 law enforcement interdictions. The wholesale value for these seizures is worth over $387,500,000 million dollars.

The Coast Guard’s efforts under Operation Unified Resolve contribute to the interagency results being achieved each and every day locally under Operation Caribbean Guard, which coordinates efforts between the Coast Guard, its DHS, Commonwealth and Territorial law enforcement partners, who are working diligently to deter detect, and disrupt illicit maritime trafficking to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

CCSF is an initiative of the U.S. Attorney’s Office created to disrupt and dismantle major drug trafficking organizations operating in the Caribbean. CCSF is part of the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) and Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) that investigates South American-based drug trafficking organizations responsible for the movement of multi-kilogram quantities of narcotics using the Caribbean as a transshipment point for further distribution to the United States. The initiative is composed of HSI, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico, Drug Enforcement Administration, FBI, the Coast Guard, CBP and PRPD’s Joint Forces for Rapid Action.

The Coast Guard Cutter Sapelo is a 110-foot island class patrol boat homeported in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

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