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On Last Pacific Patrol, Coast Guard Cutter Seizes Five Tonnes of Cocaine

Alert cocaine bust
The crew of USCGC Alert and their HITRON team with five tonnes of cocaine (USCG)

Published Feb 26, 2024 5:48 PM by The Maritime Executive

The U.S. Coast Guard cutter USCGC Alert is wrapping up her tenure at the port of Astoria, Oregon, and is going out with a bang. The 55-year-old medium endurance cutter (WMEC) just completed her last counternarcotics patrol in the Eastern Pacific, and it was a success: the crew completed a single five-tonne drug bust valued at about $140 million. 
 
While under way, the Alert's embarked helicopter aircrew - a Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron (HITRON) team based out of Florida - spotted a go-fast smuggling boat. The aircrew contacted the crew of Alert, who launched two small-boat teams to intercept the suspect vessel. 

The go-fast boat refused to stop when ordered, so the HITRON team disabled its engines. Without propulsion, the suspect vessel could not escape, and the cutter's small boat crews arrived and took control of the scene.

The suspects had tried to throw their illicit cargo overboard, so the Coast Guard boat teams had a full night's worth of work to recover all of the evidence and bring it back to the cutter. This task was not light duty: taken all together, they gathered in a haul of about 4,950 kilos of cocaine. It was among the largest single busts on record in the Eastern Pacific. 

“The crew worked in the margins, and we won big in the margins,” said Cmdr. Lee Crusius, commanding officer of the Alert. “The return on investment from the Coast Guard to the American people continues to be demonstrated by our ability to project capabilities and rule of law within the maritime domain."

The seizure marks a high note for Alert's time on the West Coast. The cutter will soon be switching homeports to Port Canaveral as part of the Coast Guard's manpower-adaptation program. The service is short-staffed, and instead of gapping at-sea billets, Commandant Adm. Linda Fagan has ordered a reduction in active fleet size. This means accelerating the retirement process for a small number of older vessels in order to transfer their crews to the remaining fleet. According to the Daily Astorian, Alert will be replacing another cutter at Port Canaveral which is slated for decommissioning. (The Coast Guard could not be reached for comment.)

Alert was commissioned in 1969 and is the youngest of the 210-foot Reliance-class Medium Endurance Cutters (WMECs). Given their advanced age, the dozen-odd active ships in this class are among of the Coast Guard's top priorities for replacement. The two WMECs at Port Canaveral are 3-5 years older than Alert