A U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Office of Air and Marine (OAM) P-3 crew, operating out of the National Air Security Operations Center in Jacksonville, Fla., made a memorial detection over Memorial Day weekend when they interrupted smugglers moving nearly 7,000 pounds of cocaine with a value in excess of $500 million.
The CBP P-3 crews detect, follow and sometimes disable vessels trying to transport illegal drugs to U.S. shores. The aircraft’s crews radio patrol boats from partnership countries to the boat’s location.
The first disruption came when a CBP P-3 aircraft crew operating in the Eastern Pacific detected a 30′ speedboat north of the Galapagos Islands on the western coast of South America on May 24. When the crew aboard the boat realized it had been spotted, they began dumping packages of cocaine over the side. After discarding multiple packages, the suspects stopped and began washing the boat to eliminate traces of cocaine.
The speedboat attempted to evade authorities, but the P-3 crew vectored a law enforcement helicopter to the boat’s location. After firing shots to disable the boat, law enforcement arrested three suspects as their speed boat sunk in the ocean. This joint effort denied criminal organizations more than $82 million dollars from cocaine proceeds.
The following day, a CBP P-3 crew operating in the Western Caribbean detected a three-engine speedboat moving at high speed near the Panamanian and Colombian border. Once the suspects realized they had been discovered, they attempted to evade further surveillance by maneuvering close to the Panamanian coastline in and out of shoals and other obstructions. The CBP crew directed Panamanian Law Enforcement vessels to intercept the speedboat, apprehend the individuals and seize more than 1,000 packages of cocaine weighing more than 6,000 lbs. The estimated value of this seizure is more than $445 million.
“Our P-3 crews are actively supporting Joint Interagency Task Force-South and partner nations to disrupt the transport of narcotics to the U.S.,” said Doug Garner, CBP director of National Air Security Operations in Jacksonville. “These two disruptions are an example of the international cooperative law enforcement effort to disrupt transnational criminal activity and deny their profiting from such activity.”
CBP OAM P-3s have been an integral part of the successful counter-narcotic missions operating in coordination with the Joint Interagency Task Force – South (JIATFS). The P-3s patrol a 42 million square mile area of the Western Caribbean and Eastern Pacific, known as the Source and Transit Zone, in search of drugs that are in transit towards U.S. shores. The P-3s’ distinctive detection capabilities allow highly-trained crews to identify emerging threats well beyond the land borders of the U.S. By providing surveillance of known air, land, and maritime smuggling routes in an area that is twice the size of the continental U.S.; the P-3s detect, monitor and disrupt smuggling activities before they reach shore.
During fiscal year 2012, the CBP P-3 fleet continued its anti-smuggling success by seizing or disrupting more than 117,765 lbs. of cocaine valued at more than $8.8 billion, totaling 21.1 lbs. seized for every flight hour, valued at $1.5 million for every hour flown.