Aegis Destroyer Intercepts Drug-Running Boat in Eastern Pacific

Image courtesy USN

Published May 22, 2020 1:49 PM by The Maritime Executive

On May 14, the destroyer USS Pinckney and an embarked U.S. Coast Guard law enforcement detachment (LEDET) seized about 3,000 pounds of cocaine from a low-profile vessel in the eastern Pacific.

During the operation, a U.S. Navy maritime patrol aircraft assigned to the "Tridents" of Patrol Squadron 26 spotted the low-profile vessel. The Pinckney, with helicopters assigned to the "Wolf Pack" of Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 75 and the embarked Coast Guard team moved into position to intercept the vessel. They recovered 70 bales of cocaine worth more than $28 million in wholesale value.

"This was truly a team effort," Navy Cmdr. Andrew Roy, USS Pinckney's commanding officer, said. "The air support we received was first class. We were able to safely and successfully conduct this operation due to the outstanding professionalism of the Navy-Coast Guard team."

Image courtesy USN

USS Pinckney alongside the cutter Northland in the Eastern Pacific, April 26 (USN)

The USS Pinckney is deployed to the U.S. 4th Fleet area of operations for U.S. Southern Command / Joint Interagency Task Force South's counterdrug mission. On April 1, U.S. Southern Command stepped up its counternarcotics operations in the Western Hemisphere in response to a White House request.

The waters off the west coast of Central America are a maritime "highway" for drug traffickers moving cocaine northwards from Colombia and Peru. The price differential between Colombian wholesale prices and U.S. street prices for cocaine is in excess of 7,000 percent ($2,200 per kilo vs. $165,000 per kilo and up), creating a powerful profit motive for criminal cartels to export and market the drug in North America. 

In response to heightened U.S.-led enforcement pressures, many traffickers have shifted to low-observable vessel designs. With fiberglass construction, minimal freeboard and camouflage paint schemes, these boats are intended to reduce the chance of detection without the construction cost of true submersible capability.