Operation Martillo makes huge cocaine seizure
By Dialogo January 30, 2014
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic – A joint, international counter-narcotics operation seized more than 1,134 kilograms of cocaine, worth an estimated US$37 million, from a speedboat south of the Dominican Republic, the U.S. Coast Guard said Jan. 28.
The shipment, which was confiscated on Jan. 22 but not announced until this week when the drugs were offloaded in Miami Beach in the U.S. state of Florida, marked the largest takedown in months as part of Operation Martillo, an international mission to prevent trafficking via maritime channels.
“This historic operation is a result of a dedication to improved interoperability and highlights the great success and commitment of our interagency partnerships to stop the illegal flow of narcotics into the United States,” Rear Adm. Jake Korn, commander of the Coast Guard Seventh District, said in a prepared statement.
The seizure started when a Coast Guard aircraft spotted the go-fast boat in waters south of the Dominican Republic early on Jan. 22. Four people were aboard a boat carrying suspicious packages, according to the Coast Guard.
The British Royal Navy ship RFA Wave Knight – operating in the Caribbean as part of the Operation Martillo – was called to assist.
A Coast Guard helicopter was launched from the Wave Knight and began firing warning shots at the speedboat. Instead of stopping, the crew continued, throwing bales of suspected narcotics overboard. The helicopter fired at the boat, disabling it.
A Coast Guard crew traveling aboard the Wave Knight boarded the vessel and detained the four men, whose names were not released.
Meanwhile, a second boat was launched to recover about 45 bales of cocaine weighing at least 1,134 kilograms.
The Coast Guard put the shipment’s wholesale value at about US$37 million, but the Royal Navy said the cocaine could have been worth nearly three times that amount if it had reached the streets of Great Britain.
“RFA Wave Knight, working seamlessly with the U.S. Coast Guard, has demonstrated her capability and resolve to disrupt the illicit drug trade. On this occasion, a significant amount of Class A drugs has been stopped from reaching the streets of the UK and USA,” Capt. Duncan Lamb RFA, Wave Knight’s commanding officer, said in a prepared statement.
The Royal Navy said its ships have taken part in seizures of illicit drugs worth an estimated US$380 million this winter alone.
“Once again, the Royal Navy has played a key role in the international mission to tackle the drugs trade from the Caribbean,” British Defense Secretary Philip Hammond said of the latest bust in a prepared statement.
The United Kingdom and U.S. Coast Guard teamed in late December to confiscate 250 kilograms of marijuana from a dilapidated fishing vessel in the Caribbean. The crew of five was detained and the drugs, worth an estimated US$1.5 million, were turned over to authorities.
Operation Martillo, which is led by the U.S. Joint Interagency Task Force South and includes Canada, Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, France, Guatemala, Honduras, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Panama, Spain and the United Kingdom, strives to disrupt transnational criminal organizations by limiting their ability to use Central America as a transit zone.
Since it was launched in January 2012, teams confiscated 278,611 kilograms of cocaine and 27,556 kilograms of marijuana, arrests 620 suspects and seizing 205 vessels in the process, the U.S. Joint Interagency Task Force South calculated earlier this month, before the latest bust.
More than two-thirds of the 444 events carried out under Operation Martillo involved multi-nation assistance or support, which officials said is key to its success.
“Overall, this mission has a high operational tempo. It’s up to us to keep the pressure on,” Cmdr. Lance Lantier, the USS Rentz’s commanding officer, said in a prepared statement earlier this month.
The USS Rentz has confiscated 3,000 kilograms of cocaine during the past four months, he said.
“The success of [our most recent] operation reflects our continued commitment to countering the flow of illegal narcotics while maintaining a forceful presence,” Lantier added.