07 Oct Coast Guard Seizes 14 Tons of Cocaine
Drugs seized during 18 interdictions by U.S. Coast Guard, Navy- reports the Union Tribune San Diego.
Coast Guard unloads 14 tons of cocaine
By Dana Littlefield 12:59 p.m. Oct. 6, 2014 Updated 6:27 p.m.
Oct. 1, 2014 Updated 7:27 a.m.
SAN DIEGO — More than 28,000 pounds of cocaine that had been seized at sea were unloaded in San Diego Monday, the result of a multiagency effort to disrupt drug activity off the coast of Central and South America, Coast Guard officials said.
That’s roughly 14 tons, about the same weight as a large school bus.
The drugs, worth more than $423 million wholesale, were seized during 18 interdictions by U.S. Coast Guard and Navy forces and turned over to federal drug authorities.
Wooden pallets stacked high with packages filled with narcotics covered the flight deck of the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Boutwell, which had just returned from a three-month deployment. Signs on each pallet marked the number of packages and notations about the type of vessel (many of them pangas and high performance “go-fast” boats) from which the drugs were seized.
Between July and October, the Boutwell took part in Operation Martillo — “hammer” in Spanish — which authorities described as an effort to counter the spread of transnational organized crime in Central America.
The Boutwell’s crew made six busts, seized more than 5,000 pounds of cocaine and detained 19 suspected smugglers.
In all, 55 suspects were detained in connection with 18 investigations by Drug Enforcement Administration offices in San Diego, Miami and Puerto Rico, as well as by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, authorities said. A spokeswoman for the agency declined to give a specific time frame for those investigations, saying only that they are long-term operations and are ongoing.
“It is a very large seizure,” said DEA Special Agent Amy Roderick, but not the largest she was aware of.
The last large-scale unloading of cocaine happened in San Diego last March when authorities reported seizures of about four tons of cocaine in nine interdictions also conducted as part of Operation Martillo. That cocaine was valued at $122 million.
The DEA often withholds details about which criminal organizations were affected by the drug seizures. Experts say that without that information, it’s difficult to know what effect the busts could have on ongoing efforts to curb the flow of illegal drugs from other parts of the world into the United States.
Jeffrey McIllwain, an associate professor at San Diego State University who specializes in issues of criminal justice and international security, said seizures of 14 tons of cocaine could have done significant damage, depending on which part of the supply chain was impacted.
“There’s a financial impact and there’s also a geostrategic impact when it’s disrupting the networks that may be engaging in things other than drug trafficking,” McIllwain said.
During its deployment, the Boutwell’s crew made several significant drug interdictions, often firing from a helicopter to disable suspect boats, taking control of the vessels and recovering bales of cocaine that had been dumped overboard, authorities said.
The crew seized more than 5,000 pounds of cocaine and detained 19 suspected smugglers. For their efforts, members of the unit received a commendation during a brief ceremony aboard the ship Monday morning.
“You’ve made a tremendous difference in this work to combat the criminal networks that operate to transport illicit drugs and to bring great evil to this region and this hemisphere,” said Vice Adm. Charles Ray, commander of the Coast Guard Pacific Area in Alameda.
“Your work with these seizures made a big dent in their operations, and I couldn’t be prouder,” he said.
The more than 160-crew members will receive ribbons formally recognizing their service to the operation.
Capt. Edward Westfall, the Boutwell’s commanding officer, received stickers in recognition of the cocaine seizures that will be affixed to the bridge wing of the ship, a Coast Guard tradition.
Aircrews from Coast Guard Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron from Jacksonville, Fla. will also be recognized for their role in Boutwell’s busts, officials said.
The drugs brought back aboard the Boutwell had been intercepted by several U.S. forces, including Coast Guard and Navy ships from San Diego, Alameda, Miami and Everett, Wash.
Some of the narcotics will be preserved for evidence purposes in upcoming trials. Eventually, they will be destroyed.
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