Categorized | News, Regional

Coast Guard hauls in coke stash

By STEPHEN THOMPSON | The Tampa Tribune

US Coast Guard crew unloads 7 tons cocaine at a Coast Guard dock in St. Petersburg - Photo by - Josh Green/Staff

In the darkness, the airplane’s radar system picked up on something moving in the seas below.

Its top barely breaking the surface in the western Caribbean, the makeshift submarine had been spotted.

A nearby U.S. Coast Guard cutter was dispatched to the location of the suspicious vessel, a self-propelled semisubmersible vessel of the type typically used by drug smugglers.

Once crew members aboard the submersible realized they had been found out, they tried to sink the vessel and started swimming. The Coast Guard launched a smaller boat and, with the help of a spotlight from a helicopter, picked up the submersible’s crew and took them into custody.

The submersible — and its cargo — sunk to the ocean floor.

That cargo turned out to be more than 7 tons of cocaine. On Friday, four weeks after the submersible was intercepted off the coast of Honduras, the drugs were unloaded at a Coast Guard dock in St. Petersburg. Authorities say the cache has a value of $180 million.

“They’re bigger loads, so we hit them harder,” said Rear Adm. Bill Baumgartner, commander of the Seventh U.S. Coast Guard District. “We want to get the drugs wholesale.”

The catch represents about a third of the 20 million tons of cocaine confiscated on U.S. land in a given year, said Rear Adm. Bill Baumgartner, commander of the Seventh Coast Guard District. The drugs and submersibles traditionally come from the jungles of Columbia, with a pit stop often in Mexico before they end up in the United States.

Though submersibles have appeared in the eastern Pacific Ocean, their appearance in the western Caribbean is relatively new, Baumgartner said.

Federal agencies have come upon three in the western Caribbean since July, and they were able to retrieve the drugs in two cases, said Coast Guard Lt. Patrick Montgomery.

Drug smugglers using submersibles usually intentionally scuttle the vessels if discovered, typically by releasing valves. They then jump overboard, expecting to be rescued.

Smugglers usually try to sink the boat and drugs on the theory that without the drugs as evidence, the crew can’t be prosecuted, authorities said.

But federal agencies picked up on the legal maneuver and successfully fought for a law that makes it a felony to use one of the vessels without the authorization of a government, Baumgartner said. The penalties are as serious as those meted out for smuggling drugs, he said.

Officials did not want to leave a large drug stash on the ocean floor for someone else to get.

The Coast Guard sent another cutter to the area where the sub sunk, and on Oct. 17, divers from the FBI began looking for the drugs, said Lt. Cmdr. Paul Morgan, the senior officer on the Coast Guard cutter Cypress.

In waters 60 to 100 feet deep, divers sometimes had to use hydraulic cutting tools to carve away pieces of the submersible to retrieve the cocaine, said Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officer Ken Andersen. Sometimes the weather was so rough, divers had to wait it out on the ship.

A week later, 122 bales of cocaine were recovered, along with dozens of single-kilo packages, many of which floated to the service.

Baumgartner said over the last 12 months or so, the Coast Guard, working with other federal agencies and other governments, has detained 98 smugglers found off the shores of the southeastern United States and in the Caribbean.

Authorities also have confiscated 60,000 pounds of cocaine and 4,500 pounds of marijuana, with a street value of $727 million, he said.

Leave a Reply

TMR print pages

Newsletter

Archives

CARICOM – Staff Vacancy

CXC HEADQUARTERS - Executive Search

https://indd.adobe.com/embed/2b4deb22-cf03-4509-9bbd-938c7e8ecc7d

A Moment with the Registrar of Lands

By STEPHEN THOMPSON | The Tampa Tribune

US Coast Guard crew unloads 7 tons cocaine at a Coast Guard dock in St. Petersburg - Photo by - Josh Green/Staff

In the darkness, the airplane’s radar system picked up on something moving in the seas below.

Insert Ads Here

Its top barely breaking the surface in the western Caribbean, the makeshift submarine had been spotted.

A nearby U.S. Coast Guard cutter was dispatched to the location of the suspicious vessel, a self-propelled semisubmersible vessel of the type typically used by drug smugglers.

Once crew members aboard the submersible realized they had been found out, they tried to sink the vessel and started swimming. The Coast Guard launched a smaller boat and, with the help of a spotlight from a helicopter, picked up the submersible’s crew and took them into custody.

The submersible — and its cargo — sunk to the ocean floor.

That cargo turned out to be more than 7 tons of cocaine. On Friday, four weeks after the submersible was intercepted off the coast of Honduras, the drugs were unloaded at a Coast Guard dock in St. Petersburg. Authorities say the cache has a value of $180 million.

“They’re bigger loads, so we hit them harder,” said Rear Adm. Bill Baumgartner, commander of the Seventh U.S. Coast Guard District. “We want to get the drugs wholesale.”

The catch represents about a third of the 20 million tons of cocaine confiscated on U.S. land in a given year, said Rear Adm. Bill Baumgartner, commander of the Seventh Coast Guard District. The drugs and submersibles traditionally come from the jungles of Columbia, with a pit stop often in Mexico before they end up in the United States.

Though submersibles have appeared in the eastern Pacific Ocean, their appearance in the western Caribbean is relatively new, Baumgartner said.

Federal agencies have come upon three in the western Caribbean since July, and they were able to retrieve the drugs in two cases, said Coast Guard Lt. Patrick Montgomery.

Drug smugglers using submersibles usually intentionally scuttle the vessels if discovered, typically by releasing valves. They then jump overboard, expecting to be rescued.

Smugglers usually try to sink the boat and drugs on the theory that without the drugs as evidence, the crew can’t be prosecuted, authorities said.

But federal agencies picked up on the legal maneuver and successfully fought for a law that makes it a felony to use one of the vessels without the authorization of a government, Baumgartner said. The penalties are as serious as those meted out for smuggling drugs, he said.

Officials did not want to leave a large drug stash on the ocean floor for someone else to get.

The Coast Guard sent another cutter to the area where the sub sunk, and on Oct. 17, divers from the FBI began looking for the drugs, said Lt. Cmdr. Paul Morgan, the senior officer on the Coast Guard cutter Cypress.

In waters 60 to 100 feet deep, divers sometimes had to use hydraulic cutting tools to carve away pieces of the submersible to retrieve the cocaine, said Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officer Ken Andersen. Sometimes the weather was so rough, divers had to wait it out on the ship.

A week later, 122 bales of cocaine were recovered, along with dozens of single-kilo packages, many of which floated to the service.

Baumgartner said over the last 12 months or so, the Coast Guard, working with other federal agencies and other governments, has detained 98 smugglers found off the shores of the southeastern United States and in the Caribbean.

Authorities also have confiscated 60,000 pounds of cocaine and 4,500 pounds of marijuana, with a street value of $727 million, he said.