Operación MARTILLO leads to seizure of 2,800 kilograms of cocaine
By Dialogo September 08, 2014
Operación MARTILLO, a multinational mission aimed at dismantling international criminal organizations, recorded a major success when the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Legare offloaded about 2,800 kilograms of cocaine at Base Miami Beach in the U.S. state of Florida on Sept. 4.
Security forces seized the cocaine during two interdictions in the Caribbean Sea in late August. The cocaine has an estimated wholesale value of more than $93 million (USD), authorities said.
Operación MARTILLO combines the forces of 10 countries in the Americas – Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panamá, Canada, and the United States – along with France, the Netherlands, Spain and the United Kingdom. The countries work together to share information and use their air, land, and maritime forces to counter illicit trafficking by limiting the use of Central America as a transit area.
Military commanders reviewed Operación MARTILLO at the Central American Regional Security Conference (CENTSEC 2014) that was held in Guatemala City from April 1-3, when Gen. John F. Kelly, the commander of the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), praised all the countries for their efforts.
“MARTILLO has been a success … because of your participation, your leadership, and because of your partnership,” he said. “We couldn’t do this without you; and looking ahead, we’ll be relying on each other more and more to capitalize on our strengths in this fight.”
The first portion of the cocaine that was offloaded at Base Miami Beach was seized during an interdiction on Aug. 23, when a U.S. Customs and Border Protection plane saw a boat traveling at a high rate of speed north of the Gulf of Urabá. Upon being spotted and with forces converging toward the boat, crew members threw bales of cocaine overboard. The Coast Guard, however, arrested four suspected narco-traffickers and retrieved 32 bales of cocaine.
“It was apparent they had what appeared to be narcotics and after we did the test they had bales on board of pure cocaine,” Boatswain Mate Omar Castro with the U.S. Coast Guard told reporters.
Five days later, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection marine patrol notified the Legare of a suspicious ship off the coast of Panama. The Legare crew interdicted the Panamanian-flagged coastal freighter named the “Hope II” and started searching for illicit goods.
“Once they spotted the plane, they changed course which is suspicious for us,” Boatswain Mate 1st Class, Joshua McElhaney with the Coast Guard told reporters. “We asked them some questions and some of their information didn’t quite add up, so we conducted a boarding.”
After a lengthy search, the Coast Guard arrested the Hope II’s eight-member crew after finding about 1,493 kilograms of cocaine. The suspects were turned over to U.S. officials.
“We were approximately 24 hours on board before we got to a hidden compartment,” Castro said, adding the suspects were arrested without incident. “There was a hidden compartment and once we opened it we found all the contraband.”
All of the seized cocaine from both interdictions was turned over to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
“It’s about 2,800 kilos, about a ton and a half of contraband. It’s a great success overall. It’s our mission down there besides search and rescue. We’re out there to cause an effect in the drug industry and I believe we made a little dent on it,” Castro told reporters.
The interdictions continued Operación MARTILLO’s success. In 2013, Operación MARTILLO seized 131 metric tons of cocaine with a wholesale value of more than US$2.6 billion, confiscated 14,600 kilograms of marijuana worth more than US$30.5 million and 4,000 grams of heroin worth US$352,000, in addition to taking 295 suspected traffickers into custody.