Coast Guard Cutter Offloads 21 Tonnes of Cocaine

By The Maritime Executive 01-26-2018 03:20:00

On Thursday, the crew of the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Stratton offloaded more than 21 tonnes of cocaine on the pier in San Diego. The haul is worth about $720 million, and it was seized from smugglers in 23 separate high-seas interdictions in the Eastern Pacific by American and Canadian agencies.

Stratton herself stopped two hard-to-spot low profile boats in one three day period, resulting in the capture of 2.6 tonnes of cocaine. Her crew seized three more boats during the tour, and their total for the voyage came in at 5.4 tonnes, the largest contribution to the cargo on display Thursday. 

The cutters Steadfast, Mohawk, Northland and Thetis also contributed to the haul, along with the Canadian Coast Guard cutter Nanaimo, which had a U.S. Coast Guard law enforcement detachment on board during her patrol. 

The Coast Guard says that it increasingly sees smugglers turning to semi-submersible boats and low-profile go-fast boats in order to evade detection. The latter type has less freeboard than a typical speedboat, plus multiple outboard engines and camoflage paint to help evade law enforcement. Over the past six months, the Coast Guard has interdicted 13 of these low-profile boats and two semi-submersibles. 

Coast Guard Vice Adm. Fred Midgette credited part of the mission's success to the Stratton's ScanEagle drone, a small unmanned aircraft that is popular with military users. As smugglers turn to purpose-built, stealthy small craft with low radar profiles, the task of locating them has grown more difficult. But drones can make that process easier, Midgette says. "The drones are a game changer for us because they can stay up so long and they have a very wide swath of the water they can look at," Midgette said. "They absolutely have increased our effectiveness."

File footage: U.S. Coast Guard boarding team interdicts smuggling semi-submersible, 2015