The United States Coast Guard says 2011 marked “a year of exceptional security operations” in the Caribbean.
“In addition to stopping the first-ever drug sub found in Caribbean waters, crews operating in the 7th District (in Miami) went on to interdict an unprecedented three more in rapid succession,” said the Coast Guard in a statement.
“The crew of Coast Guard Cutter Seneca made the first interdiction and marked the first time the Coast Guard successfully completed an underwater drug recovery,” it added.
“When Seneca’s crew arrived on scene, the smugglers intentionally sank the self-propelled semi-submersible (SPSS), which smugglers typically do to send evidence to the bottom of the ocean,” it continued.
The Coast Guard said the Seneca crewmembers commenced searching for the sunken sub with other Coast Guard cutters, the Honduran navy and FBI dive teams.
It said the Cutter Oak – the district’s only sea-going buoy tender – used side-sonar equipment to locate the drug sub.
Utilizing Oak as a platform, the Coast Guard said the FBI Laboratory’s Technical Dive Team from Quantico, Virginia, was able to recover nearly 15,000 pounds of cocaine with an estimated street value of US$180 million.
“Working on a buoy deck is dangerous enough. But this unique mission involved blending dive operations, boat operations and deck operations at the same time,” said Lt. Cmdr. Peter Niles, commanding officer of the Oak.
“The equipment the FBI brought to the Oak and their dive teams were essential to locate the SPSS and recover its cargo,” he added.
The Coast Guard said the 7th District crews made two more drug-sub interdictions in September.
“The interdiction of a third SPSS in the Caribbean brings to a close an extremely successful year for the Coast Guard here in the Southeast U.S. and Caribbean,” said Rear. Adm. Bill Baumgartner, commander of the 7th District.
“Working with our interagency and international partners, we detained 98 smugglers and prevented 60,064 pounds of cocaine and 4,412 pounds of marijuana with a combined street value of US$727 million from reaching our streets,” he added.
In addition to successfully keeping drugs off America’s streets, the U.S. Coast Guard said its crews performed 281 “migrant-interdiction cases,” involving Haitians, among others, in securing US borders and repatriating 2,917 migrants.
“Migrants attempting to illegally enter the U.S. by boat often travel aboard leaking, dangerously overloaded and ill-equipped vessels and put their lives at extreme risk,” Baumgartner said.
“When Coast Guard crews interdict migrant-smuggling, they not only ensure the security of the U.S., they also save lives,” he added.
Baumgartner said, while 2011 was successful, the 7th District is looking to improve effectiveness with the arrival of the new Sentinel-Class fast response cutter in 2012.
He said fast response cutters will replace the district’s aging 110-foot patrol boats with “significantly greater capability,” disclosing that the first six fast response cutters are scheduled for Miami, with the cutter Bernard C. Webber due to arrive in early spring.