The Coast Guard announced Thursday the interdiction of more than 2,470 pounds of cocaine, and the detention of 12 suspects, during three separate missions in the Eastern Pacific the week of Nov. 21.
The Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf, a national security cutter, and the Coast Guard Cutter Boutwell, a Secretary Class high endurance cutter, were on counter-drug patrols in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. Boutwell’s crew intercepted a drug-laden fishing vessel more than 200 miles west of Ecuador while Bertholf’s crew recovered cocaine jettisoned from a speed boat they were pursuing near the coast of Panama.
The Coast Guard executed 120 drug interdiction cases in fiscal year 2011, keeping 75.6 metric tons of cocaine and 17.3 metric tons of marijuana from reaching U.S. shores. More than 23 metric tons of cocaine have been seized since Aug. 29. The Coast Guard also seized 40 vessels and detained 191 suspects in fiscal year 2011, which ended Sept. 30.
The primary method of maritime drug smuggling remains the “go-fast” boat, which accounted for 58 percent of interdiction cases. Self-propelled, semi-submersible vessels, commonly referred to as drug subs, accounted for 19 percent, while fishing vessels accounted for four percent of maritime drug smuggling activity.
Boutwell’s interdiction began Nov. 23 when the cutter approached the Ecuadorian-flagged fishing vessel El Soberano, approximately 230 miles west of Ecuador. The Coast Guard crew observed suspicious packages on board, saw there was no fishing gear on the deck and noted the El Soberano was towing a smaller launch. The Boutwell’s boarding team conducted a search of the fishing vessel, discovering 40 bales of cocaine weighing between 50 to 56 pounds each. The boarding team detained all nine individuals aboard the two vessels and brought them aboard Boutwell.
"I couldn't be prouder of my crew for their vigilance and decisive actions during this interdiction," said Capt. Matthew J. Gimple, commanding officer of the Coast Guard Cutter Boutwell. "For more than 42 years, the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Boutwell has safeguarded America’s maritime interests – at home and around the world – saving those in peril, defending our maritime border, and protecting the maritime transportation system, natural resources and the marine environment. We’ve had three interdictions this month, all of which were 200 miles or more offshore; the ability to operate multiple, over-the-horizon boats and aircraft from our cutter for sustained periods is key to success.”
Bertholf’s action began five nautical miles west of Punta Caracoles, Panama, while the cutter was on patrol in Panamanian waters under the authority of an embarked Panamanian shiprider. Bertholf was alerted by a maritime patrol airplane that a “go-fast” drug smuggling speedboat was in the area. The crew of the Bertholf located the “go-fast” using the ship’s Forward Looking Infrared sensor and radar. The cutter’s over-the-horizon boat was launched and its crew intercepted the suspect boat. The “go-fast” fled, jettisoning about nine bales, one of which was recovered by the crew of the pursuing Bertholf over-the horizon boat. The suspect boat eluded law enforcement using the cover of coves and islands in the area of the chase. The pursuit ended as the chase neared the territorial seas of Colombia. The marine patrol airplane identified a debris field from which seven bales and one kilo of cocaine were subsequently recovered.
Two nights prior, the crew of the Bertholf intercepted another “go-fast,” netting two bales of cocaine and three suspects who were turned over to SENAN, the Panamanian Maritime service.
"My crew's response was exceptional during the prosecution of this case, and I'm proud to report we foiled these drug smugglers and kept the narcotics from reaching their ultimate destination - the United States," said Capt. Thomas E. Crabbs, commanding officer of the Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf. “The Bertholf is one of the Coast Guard's newest cutters, unique to the United States and uniquely equipped to respond to all threats; it served the nation well during this case.”
The Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf is on a 70-day patrol conducting counter-narcotics operations in the Eastern Pacific. Cutters like the Bertholf routinely conduct operations from South America to the Bering Sea where their unmatched combination of range, speed, and ability to operate in extreme weather provides the mission flexibility necessary to conduct alien migrant interdiction operations, domestic fisheries protection, search and rescue, counter-narcotics and homeland security operations at great distances from shore keeping threats far from the U.S. mainland.
The Coast Guard Cutter Boutwell is on a 60-day deployment for counter-drug operations in the Eastern Pacific. So far in this patrol they have been involved in three law enforcement cases resulting in the seizure or jettison of 3,800 pounds of cocaine worth $40 million. The Boutwell and the Coast Guard's current fleet of cutters is from 30 to 45 years old, constituting one of the oldest fleets in the world while being one of the busiest.
The Boutwell and the 11 other original Secretary-class, high endurance cutters, are being replaced by eight Legend-class, national security cutters like the cutter Bertholf. The NCSs are faster, better equipped, more durable, safer and more efficient than their predecessor, and will allow the Coast Guard to continue and build on the proud history of service provided by their predecessor class, delivering a unique blend of military capability, law enforcement authority and lifesaving expertise wherever needed to protect American interests, today and for decades to come.