Coast Guard seizes $30 million in cocaine, apprehend 3 smugglers

A go-fast interdicted, with three suspected smugglers and 2,606 pounds of cocaine onboard, by the Coast Guard Cutter Joseph Tezanos (in the background) and Caribbean Border Interagency Group partner agencies Dec. 11, 2018, sits adrift, approximately 95 nautical miles northeast of Saint Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. The interdiction was the result of Operation Full Court Press, a Department of Homeland Security multi-agency initiative to disrupt Transnational Criminal Organizations within the maritime approaches to the southeastern United States.

A go-fast interdicted, with three suspected smugglers and 2,606 pounds of cocaine onboard, by the Coast Guard Cutter Joseph Tezanos (in the background)  Dec. 11, 2018.

SAINT THOMAS, U.S. Virgin Islands — The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Joseph Tezanos offloaded 2,606 pounds of cocaine and transferred custody of three suspected smugglers Friday to U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agents in St. Thomas U.S. Virgin Islands.

Coast Guard and Caribbean Border Interagency Group (CBIG) law enforcement authorities seized the $30 million cocaine shipment and apprehended the suspected smugglers, following the interdiction of a go-fast vessel Tuesday morning in international waters off Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

This interdiction is the result of ongoing multi-agency law enforcement efforts in support of Operations Full Court Press, Operation Caribbean Guard and the Caribbean Border Interagency Group.

The suspected smugglers are facing likely federal prosecution by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of the U.S. Virgin Islands.

“This case was a team effort and perfect example of Caribbean Border Interagency Group partners working in coordination with Joint Interagency Task Force – East to protect the people of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands,” said Lt. Cmdr. Mario Gil, commanding officer of the Coast Guard Cutter Joseph Tezanos. “This case involved a high speed chase of over 10 hours in challenging weather conditions that was possible thanks to the tenacity and persistence of the Tezano’s crew and of our partners, who are proud to have completed the mission and prevented a large quantity of drugs from reaching the streets.”

While on a routine patrol, the crew of a HC-144 Ocean Sentry aircraft from Coast Guard Air Station Miami detected a suspicious go-fast vessel Monday afternoon transiting with three people onboard, approximately 65 nautical miles north of San Juan, Puerto Rico. Upon sunset, the go-fast continued to transit in the dark without the use of navigational lights.

Watchstanders in Coast Guard Sector San Juan alerted CBIG partner agencies of the developing situation, and diverted the Coast Guard Cutter Joseph Tezanos and Coast Guard Cutter Thetis to interdict the suspect vessel. The crews of two Customs and Border Protection Caribbean Air and Marine Branch maritime patrol aircrafts also responded and supported the interdiction by maintaining aerial surveillance of the go-fast.

Throughout the multi-hour pursuit, the Coast Guard and CBP aircrews vectored-in the cutter Joseph Tezanos to the go-fast’s position. Once on scene, the Tezanos remained in hot pursuit of the go-fast, as the crew launched the cutter’s Over the Horizon Boat IV that closed-in and interdicted the go-fast, approximately 95 miles nautical miles northeast of St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. The three suspects onboard the go-fast claimed to be Dominican Republic nationals. The Tezanos boat crew located 52 bales of suspected contraband aboard the go-fast that a field test yielded positive results for cocaine. The Tezanos crew apprehended and embarked the suspected smugglers along with the seized contraband.

The go-fast was later destroyed as a hazard to navigation.

The suspected smugglers and seized contraband where transported to Saint Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, where they were transferred to the custody of DEA Special Agents, who are leading the investigation into this case.

Operation Full Court Press joins interdiction assets from Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine Operations (CBP AMO), Coast Guard, and Department of Defense (DoD) with intelligence and investigative information from Panama Express North Strike Force (PANEX-N), and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations (ICE HSI), in coordination with Joint Interagency Task Force South (JIATF-South), to disrupt Transnational Criminal Organizations within the maritime approaches to the Southeastern United States. Joint Task Force-East leads the coordination of integrated and prioritized DHS joint operations and investigations by leveraging DHS component, interagency, and partner nation capabilities while focusing on unity of effort.

Operation Caribbean Guard is a Department of Homeland Security multi-agency law enforcement operation to support ongoing efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands executed under the San Juan Regional Coordinating Mechanism (SJ ReCoM)/Caribbean Border Interagency Group (CBIG).

CBIG unifies efforts between U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Puerto Rico, and Puerto Rico Police Joint Forces of Rapid Action, in their common goal of securing the borders of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands against illegal migrant and drug smuggling.

The cutter Joseph Tezanos is a 154-foot Fast Response Cutter homeported in San Juan, Puerto Rico, while the cutter Thetis is a 270-foot Medium Endurance Cutter homeported in Key West, Fla.

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