SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Sapelo interdicted 1.3 tons of cocaine off the coast of the Dominican Republic Saturday disrupting a maritime illegal drug shipment in a joint effort as part of Operation Caribbean Guard.
The drug shipment is estimated to have a wholesale value of more than $34 million.
While on a routine patrol, a deployed Coast Guard Air Station Miami HC-144 Ocean Sentry aircraft crew detected a suspicious vessel south of Bani, Dominican Republic Saturday night.
Coast Guard Sector San Juan watchstanders were notified and diverted the Sapelo crew, who was patrolling the area at the time, to interdict the suspect vessel.
The crew of the aircraft observed the suspected smugglers jettisoning suspicious objects overboard as they fled at a high rate of speed after they noticed law enforcement authorities in the area. This triggered an interagency response that included aircraft from Joint Interagency Task Force South (JIATFS) and forces from the Dominican Navy.
After searching throughout the night and the following day, the crew of the Sapelo recovered 43 bales of contraband that had been thrown overboard by the suspects aboard the fleeing vessel. Further inspection and testing of the suspected contraband revealed it to be cocaine.
"The Coast Guard's work to interdict smugglers as far away from our nation's coast is unwavering. The interagency work last Saturday night kept nearly 2,800 pounds of cocaine from reaching any shore. The smooth coordination across all levels of government and with our international partners in the Dominican Republic will make the region a safer place." said Capt. Drew Pearson, Coast Guard Sector San Juan commander.
The efforts were carried out under Operation Caribbean Guard, which 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 HC-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. Also, CBIG works closely with national partners, specifically the Navy, Air Force and National Directorate for Drug Control as well as JIATFS.
The Coast Guard Cutter Sapelo is a 110-foot Island Class patrol boat whose homeport is San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The Sapelo and the other 40 Island-class patrol boats are being replaced by 58 new, Sentinel-class fast response cutters. The FRC is capable of speeds in excess of 28 knots and operating in seas over 8-feet. Armed with a 25-mm chain gun and four .50 caliber machine guns, the Fast Response Cutter provides lethal homeland security firepower. The speed, stability and firepower of the FRC deliver tremendous lifesaving, law enforcement, and homeland security capabilities in the same package.