Coast Guard seizes $43 million worth of cocaine off speedboat in Caribbean

The Miami HeraldMarch 14, 2012 

The Coast Guard has revealed that it captured a speedboat laden with $43 million worth of cocaine in the Caribbean Sea, to seize 3,532 pounds of the drug along with four suspected drug smugglers.

The 54-bale bust took place March 3 but U.S. law enforcement agencies generally delay disclosing such operations until the drugs and suspects are brought to shore.

The Coast Guard hailed the seizure as a major drug bust in its latest collaborative regional effort to block U.S.-bound drug shipments far from American shores, called Operation Martillo. The multi-agency campaign teams up with regional law enforcement agencies as well as the Defense and Homeland Security departments to hunt down drug, weapons and cash smugglers in the shallow coastal Caribbean region off Central America.

In this episode, an “Interdiction Tactical Squadron” aboard a helicopter off the 270-foot cutter Northland spotted a 35-foot speed boat with bales of the drug on its deck in the Caribbean Sea early on the Saturday morning. The Coast Guard would not give precise coordinates.

Crewmembers of the Northland, a Portland, Va., 270-foot cutter, stopped the so-called “go-fast” with an assist from the Key West based cutter Pea Island, a 110-foot patrol boat.

The Northland’s skipper, Coast Guard Cmdr. Dave Shepardson, said in a statement that the operation took place “in less-than perfect weather conditions. More importantly, the crew feels proud that they took a large quantity of drugs off the streets.”

The speedboat had no known nationality and was destroyed “as a hazard to navigation,” said Coast Guard Lt. Patrick Montgomery, an agency spokesman.

The drugs and suspected smugglers were taken to Tampa, where the Justice Department’s drug-smuggling task force was handling the case prosecution.

The Coast Guard estimated the wholesale value of the 54 bales at $43,254,000 but did not disclose the nationalities of the four alleged smugglers now in U.S. government custody.

“This successful seizure just the latest of several recent interdictions to occur under Operation Martillo,” the Coast Guard’s Miami-based regional enforcement officer, Capt. Brendan McPherson, said in a statement issued Monday evening.

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