Operation Martillo: More than 600 pounds of cocaine seized
By Dialogo January 22, 2013
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic – Patrolling off Colombia’s Pacific Coast on the night of Jan. 4, a United States Navy frigate intercepted a small boat carrying more than 600 pounds of cocaine, scoring another blow against drug trafficking for Operation Martillo.
The USS Gary, a 453-foot Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate carrying a U.S. Coast Guard team, pursued a small suspicious vessel north of Colombia and south of Panama.
Aboard the vessel, Coast Guard officers seized 600 pounds of cocaine. The drugs will be sent back to the U.S. to be tested and destroyed. The shipment had a street value of about US$22 million, the U.S Navy said in a prepared statement.
Lt. Cmdr. Corey Barker said men aboard the boat were detained and turned over to Colombian authorities, though their names were not made public. The boat was sunk at sea.
“This was one of those vessels we were chasing in the dark,” said USS Gary’s embarked Naval Criminal Investigative Service Agent Leatrice Daniels in the statement. “There was great open communication with everybody involved. Everything just flowed – from pursuit to initial contact and boarding.”
The interdiction capped off a week in which the Gary, which calls San Diego, Cal., its homeport, prohibited drug traffickers from moving an estimated 2,000 pounds of cocaine. Those shipments were worth about $272 million on the street, the Navy said in the statement.
Barker said 1,400 pounds of those drugs were disrupted, rather than seized. “They [the drug traffickers] either return to shore or are otherwise stopped from proceeding,” he said.
The USS Gary has been patrolling the Pacific and the Caribbean Sea as part of Operation Martillo, a coordinated effort to stem drug trafficking along the Central American isthmus by working with governments in the region and Europe.
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.
Launched in January 2012, Operation Martillo directly seized or assisted in the capture of 127 metric tons (279,987 pounds) of cocaine in 2012, authorities from the Joint Interagency Task Force South have reported.
That has continued to this year. On Jan. 18, for example, the Honduran Navy said that an operation coordinated with U.S. agencies culminated in the seizure of 350 kilograms (772 pounds) of cocaine from a boat found on the northern coast of the Central American country.
Success in capturing shipments in international waters has pushed traffickers to change routes, Barker said.
“We’ve been so successful at interdictions out in the open water that we’ve seen traffickers now stay closer to coastlines,” he said.
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.
“They take it via waterways to Central America and then try to move the drugs north using ground routes,” Barker said. “That’s why you see so much activity on the U.S.-Mexican border.”