A joint operation by U.S. and Colombian forces intercepted a stealthy drug smuggling boat with more than a half-ton of cocaine in the eastern Pacific Ocean, and rescued the crew after they bailed out of the flaming vessel, Coast Guard officials said.
The wild April 7 scene started during a routine counter-narcotics patrol, when a U.S. Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine Operations P-3 surveillance aircraft detected what the Coast Guard calls a low profile go-fast vessel, a fiberglass speedboat with three big outboard engines.
Based on the report from the P-3 aircrew, the Joint Interagency Task Force-South, which coordinates anti-narcotics operations among U.S. and allied forces, passed on the information to the Zephyr, a U.S. Navy Cyclone class 179’x25’x7.5’ coastal patrol ship, and the Colombian navy’s 264’x42’x12’ offshore patrol vessel ARC 7 de Agosto.
On board the Zephyr was a Coast Guard law enforcement team equipped with a rigid hull inflatable interceptor boat. As the Zephyr changed course to intercept the speedboat, the pursuers saw cargo jettisoned from the suspect vessel, which then caught fire as the suspected smugglers jumped overboard.
The Coast Guard crew fished out four men from the water and brought them to the Zephyr, and then worked with the Navy sailors for 90 minutes to put out the fire. They put up with intense heat and smoke to salvage evidence, according to Zephyr commanding officer Lt. Cmdr. Grant Greenwell.
They recovered around 1,080 lbs. of cocaine – a milestone for the members of the Coast Guard Maritime Safety and Security Team 91112 based in New Orleans, who were working with members from the Pacific Tactical Law Enforcement Team based in San Diego, Calif. It was the first drug interdiction for MSST New Orleans after becoming a pursuit-designated unit in July 2017.
The ARC 07 de Agosto arrived on scene to work with the Coast Guard law enforcement team to document the case, before the burned-out smuggling boat was sunk as a hazard to navigation.
The joint U.S.-allied interdiction efforts in the eastern Pacific and the Caribbean involve both military and law enforcement units, but the interdictions and at-sea boardings are conducted by Coast Guard personnel.