Crew members from the Coast Guard Cutter Steadfast interdict a go fast vessel in international waters of the eastern Pacific Ocean on July 18, 2019. The crew members apprehended the suspected smugglers and seized approximately 2,300 pounds of cocaine from the vessel. (U.S. Customs and Border Protection video)
SAN DIEGO, Calif. — The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Steadfast (WMEC-632) offloaded more than 26,000 pounds of seized cocaine in San Diego Friday.
The cocaine, worth an estimated $350 million, was seized in international waters of the Eastern Pacific Ocean. The contraband represents six suspected drug smuggling vessel interdictions and the recovery of floating cocaine bales by the crews of two Coast Guard cutters off the coasts of Mexico, Central and South America between late June and mid-July.
Five of the interdictions were carried out by the Steadfast’s crew, one of the Coast Guard’s oldest cutters commissioned in 1968. One interdiction was by the crew of one of the service’s newest ships, the Coast Guard Cutter Robert Ward (WPC-1130) commissioned in March, and is not only the cutter’s first drug bust, but the first drug bust by a Coast Guard Sentinel-class fast response cutter in the Eastern Pacific Ocean.
“This was 26,000 pounds of cocaine that will not make it to the main streets of the U.S.A, and it also gives us the opportunity to make sure that we can continue to combat transnational criminal organizations that transport this cocaine deep in the Pacific every single day,” said Rear Adm. Peter Gautier, the 11th Coast Guard District commander. “Because we know that with a supply chain of illegal narcotics, at every single step there’s violence, instability and despair.”
The offload from the Steadfast follows the July 11 offload of more than 39,000 pounds of seized cocaine from the Coast Guard Cutter Munro (WMSL-775) in San Diego representing 14 interdictions in the same region. So far in fiscal year 2019, the Coast Guard has made more than 100 interdictions, seized more than 230,000 pounds of cocaine and detained more than 400 suspected smugglers in the drug transit zones of the Eastern Pacific Ocean.
"There are few closer relationships than those among the members of a ship's crew performing a dangerous, important mission," said Cmdr. Dan Ursino, the Steadfast’s commanding officer. "Steadfast's crew has worked as a remarkable, dedicated team with a strong common goal - protecting their nation from the deadly, destructive effects of illegal drugs. I'm very proud of each and every one of them, and commend them for their hard work and dedication to keep themselves and their ship prepared for this vital work. Something that makes their achievement even more impressive, is that before leaving homeport on June 13th, nearly a third of this crew had never sailed before on Steadfast – a true testament to the emphasis we put on standards and training."
The fight against drug cartels in the Eastern Pacific Ocean requires unity of effort in all phases from detection, monitoring and interdictions, to criminal prosecutions by U.S. Attorneys in districts across the nation.
The Coast Guard increased U.S. and allied presence in the Eastern Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Basin, which are known drug transit zones off of Central and South America, as part of its Western Hemisphere Strategy.
During at-sea interdictions, a suspect vessel is initially detected and monitored by allied, military or law enforcement personnel coordinated by Joint Interagency Task Force-South based in Key West, Florida. The law enforcement phase of counter-smuggling operations in the Eastern Pacific is conducted under the authority of the 11th Coast Guard District, headquartered in Alameda.
The Steadfast is a 210-foot Reliance-class medium-endurance cutter homeported in Astoria, Oregon.
The Robert Ward is a 154-foot Sentinel-class fast response cutter homeported in San Pedro.
The Robert Ward is one of four recently commissioned fast response cutters (FRCs) assigned to the 11th Coast Guard District to bolster Coast Guard safety and security operations in the Pacific Southwest region.