Operation Martillo: 635 kilograms of cocaine seized
By Dialogo February 26, 2013
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic – The U.S. Coast Guard seized 635 kilograms of cocaine from a go-fast boat in the Caribbean as part of ongoing counter-narcotics missions in the region, officials said.
The seizure occurred on Jan. 24 in the southwest Caribbean, north of the Colombian coast, but was not announced until recently when the confiscated cocaine reached U.S. soil. The shipment, worth at least US$17 million, and four suspected drug smugglers were turned over to authorities at the Coast Guard Station in Miami Beach, Fla.
On Jan. 24, a patrol aircraft operated by Customs and Border Protect spotted a go-fast boat with four people aboard. Officials notified the Coast Guard Mohawk, a cutter based in Key West, Fla., which was diverted to the area to intercept the boat.
The crew aboard the Mohawk launched a helicopter, which pursued the go-fast boat. The helicopter crew “witnessed the suspected smugglers jettison the contraband,” according to the Coast Guard’s prepared statement.
A small Coast Guard crew boarded the boat, detained the four suspects and recovered 18 bales of drugs from the water. The drugs tested positive as cocaine.
The cocaine shipment and suspects were taken to the Coast Guard cutter Valiant, which is based in Mayport, Fla. It arrived at Miami Beach on Feb. 19.
The seizure and arrests are part of Operation Martillo, an international mission that gathers Western Hemisphere and European nations in an effort to curtail illicit trafficking routes on both coasts of the Central American isthmus. The U.S. Joint Interagency Task Force South leads the operation in which 14 countries participate, including Canada, Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, France, Guatemala, Honduras, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Panama, Spain and the United Kingdom.
About 80% of cocaine shipments are moved via maritime routes. Nearly 90% of the cocaine that reaches the United States comes through Mexico and Central America, according to the United Nations International Narcotics Control Board.
The 635 kilograms were not the largest illicit shipment seized under Operation Martillo, but Cmdr. Timothy Cronin, assistant chief of enforcement for the 7th Coast Guard District, highlighted the importance of ongoing interdictions.
“As part of Operation Martillo, they successfully denied drug smugglers from bringing illegal narcotics into the Central American transshipment route and ultimately prevented these drugs from crossing national borders,” he said in a prepared statement.
In 2012, its first full year, Operation Martillo seized 127,000 metric tons of cocaine and confiscated 56 go-fast boats.
“Seizures at sea are the most efficient and cost-effective way to keep contraband off the streets of America,” Cronin said in a statement. “The crew of the Mohawk and their embarked … helicopter crew flawlessly executed another successful at-sea interdiction.”
Operation Martillo is only one part of the U.S. government’s approach to cutting down smuggling routes.
On Feb. 19, the U.S. Navy announced that members of the Navy and Air Force – including Marines – landed in Big Creek, Belize, as part of a regional partnership with Caribbean nations aimed at improving security.
“We’ll be working with the Belize Defense Force Special Boat Unit,” Navy Lt. Joe Turner said. “We will train with them and share ideas and best practices. This enables us to work together better as a unit to fight criminal activities on the waterways and in the rivers.”
That program is intended to help train Belize authorities as part of the Southern Partnership Station 2013 mission, which focuses on maritime security in the Caribbean.
“This is an opportunity for us and our partner nations to come together, join efforts and enhance regional maritime security,” Cmdr. Bob Poling said. “The Caribbean nations and the U.S. share common interests and multinational maritime partnership missions.”