SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – The Coast Guard and Caribbean Border Interagency Group law enforcement authorities seized over 2,600 pounds of cocaine, a go-fast vessel and detained two Dominican smugglers during an at-sea interdiction Sunday in the Caribbean Sea.
The drug shipment is estimated to have a wholesale value of more than $29 million.
The interdiction was a result of a multi-agency law enforcement effort in support of Operation Caribbean Guard.
The crew of a patrolling U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) marine surveillance aircraft detected two men aboard a suspicious 32-foot Cuddy-Cabin power boat Sunday afternoon, approximately 60 nautical miles south of St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands.
Coast Guard watchstanders in Sector San Juan diverted the Coast Guard Cutter Matinicus to interdict the suspect vessel. The crew of the Matinicus interdicted the suspect vessel with the assistance of the CBP aircraft crew, who vectored the cutter to the vessel’s position.
The crew of the Matinicus boarded the interdicted vessel and discovered 40 bales of suspected contraband in plain view in the vessel’s forward compartment. A field test confirmed that the packages contained cocaine. The crew of the Matinicus embarked the two Dominican detainees and 40 bales of suspected contraband, and took the seized vessel in tow.
The Matinicus transferred the detainees Monday night, along with the contraband shipment and seized vessel, to awaiting CBP officers in Ponce, Puerto Rico, who in turn, transferred custody of the seizure to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) - Homeland Security Investigations for further investigation.
"This is the third major cocaine shipment this Holiday season in the Sector San Juan area of responsibility in which the Coast Guard and Caribbean regional law enforcement partners have collectively detained a total of three vessels, six smugglers and kept over 4,847 pounds of cocaine from reaching criminal hands,” said Coast Guard Capt. Drew Pearson, Sector San Juan commander. “Our efforts to stem the flow of drugs into Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands as far off shore as possible is unwavering and will reduce crime across the region.” Since May 21, 2012, the Coast Guard has seized, under Operation Unified Resolve, in partnership with regional law enforcement authorities in the Caribbean, 21,711 pounds of cocaine and 1,576 pounds of marijuana during 19 law enforcement cases. The whole sale value for these seizures in worth over $198 million dollars.
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 being executed under the San Juan Regional Coordinating Mechanism (SJ ReCoM)/Caribbean Border Interagency Group (CBIG).
CBIG was formally created to unify efforts of the 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 (FURA, for its Spanish acronym), in their common goal of securing the borders of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands against illegal migrant and drug smuggling.
The Coast Guard supports this initiative by forward deploying Coast Guard resources and capabilities from the United States, such as C-130 and HC-144 maritime patrol aircraft and additional Coast Guard cutters, to augment locally assigned federal resources and strengthen patrol efforts to deter, detect and disrupt illicit maritime trafficking in and around Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The Coast Guard Cutter Matinicus is a 110-foot island class patrol boat homeported in San Juan, Puerto Rico.