More than 7,000 pounds of cocaine that might have fetched $300 million or more on the streets of the U.S. instead were piled high on a Coast Guard dock in Miami Beach on Tuesday, the result of two separate drug seizures in the Caribbean Sea.
“It is one of the larger hauls the Coast Guard has brought in, in recent memory,” said Lt. J.G. Meaghan Gies at a press conference in Miami Beach. “The main goal of the Coast Guard is to stop this bulk contraband, this cocaine, from [contributing] to the crime and violence of South Florida.”
The 127 bales of drugs, brought to port by the Coast Guard Cutter Legare, were confiscated in recent weeks.
The Coast Guard rescued six crew members without injury. They were identified as three Colombians, two Venezuelans and one Panamanian, the Coast Guard said.
While en route to Jamaica, where the crew was to be put ashore, the Glace Bay came across 97 bales of cocaine floating in the water, officials said.
It was unclear if those drugs came from the fishing vessel, and thus no charges were filed against those on board, officials said.
On March 19, the Coast Guard Cutter Legare tried to stop a go-fast boat in the Western Caribbean between Colombia and Honduras, Gies said. An armed helicopter aboard the 270-foot cutter was launched, and the crew fired warning shots from a 50-caliber machine gun to stop the vessel.
When the boat kept going, the helicopter crew fired another volley, disabling the vessel’s engine. Those aboard began to jettison the 30 bales of drugs aboard, officials said.
The drugs were recovered and the five Colombians found aboard were turned over to Colombian authorities for prosecution, the Coast Guard said.
Despite the two recent drug seizures, interdictions of drug smugglers’ shipments in the Caribbean are down so far this fiscal year compared with previous years, evidence of what officials say are fewer available resources due to budget cuts.
The budget cuts known as sequestration have reduced by nearly a third the Coast Guard’s air and surface operations meant to intercept drugs, Coast Guard spokesman Carlos Diaz said Tuesday from Washington.
Despite good intelligence on drug smugglers’ activities, only about 25 percent of known cocaine shipments heading north from South America now are getting stopped, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Robert Papp said in an interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune last month.
Normally, the Coast Guard interdicts about half the northbound drugs, he said.
“We want to take out the big loads of cocaine,” Papp said in the interview. “You need those big offshore ships to go down there, but they’re very expensive to run.”
Both interdictions in March were part of Operation Martillo, an international operation conducted by the U.S. Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, and law enforcement agencies of other nations.
Coast Guard drug seizures
First six months of Fiscal Year 2014, which began Oct. 1: 14,756 drug kilos seized, worth $492 million wholesale.
Fiscal Year 2013: 53,200 kilos seized, worth an estimated $1.8 billion wholesale.
Fiscal Year 2012: 75,700 kilos seized, with an estimated $2.5 billion wholesale.
— Coast Guard figures