Jamaica Deals Blow to Drug Trafficking

The naval arm of the Jamaican Defence Force made a major drug bust off the western coast of the island.
Renée Carnegie/Diálogo | 11 June 2018

Transnational Threats

On May 3, 2018, the Jamaica Defence Force Coast Guard intercepted a vessel and seized 765 pounds of marijuana. (Photo: Jamaica Defence Force)

The Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) Coast Guard continues 2018 with a strong frontal assault against drug trafficking. On May 3rd, authorities intercepted a vessel and seized 765 pounds of compressed marijuana off the coast of Westmoreland, the westernmost parish of Cornwall County.

The bust was the result of JDF Coast Guard routine patrols aboard Her Majesty Jamaica Ship (HMJS) Cornwall. Three men, one Haitian and two Jamaican nationals, were held in connection with the seizure.

“The patrol team on board HMJS Cornwall was conducting routine surveillance when they spotted a blue motor-vessel acting suspiciously and approached the vessel to carry out a board and search,” Major Basil Jarrett, civil military cooperation officer at JDF, told Diálogo. “That’s when the three men were spotted throwing a number of packages overboard.”

Coast Guard units recovered five packages of marijuana from the sea and found 11 additional packages aboard the vessel. According to a United Nations Office on Drug and Crime 2015 report, a pound of marijuana can be worth as much as $4,000 on the black market—placing the potential value of this bust at more than $3 million. Authorities also seized containers with more than 150 gallons of fuel from the vessel.

“The men were handed over to the narcotics police for processing and the marijuana weighed and similarly processed,” said Maj. Jarrett. “The seizure and arrest are strongly suspected to be connected to the ongoing guns-for-drugs trade between Jamaican and Haitian criminals.”

Wide area of responsibilities

According to the U.S. Department of State’s 2018 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, Jamaica remains the largest supplier of marijuana to the United States and is a major transit point for cocaine trafficked from South to North America. Drug traffickers also export Jamaican-grown marijuana via small vessels and speedboats to other Caribbean nations in return for illicit firearms and contraband, the report indicated.

Operations against marijuana trafficking and transnational criminal organizations bore fruits in recent years for Jamaican authorities. According to the International Narcotics Control Board’s 2016 annual report, Jamaica eradicated 725 hectares of marijuana plants in 2015—cultivation throughout the island is currently estimated at 15,000 hectares. In its 2016 Annual Report, the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), the nation’s police, reported seizing nearly 48 tons of marijuana.

The JDF Coast Guard’s drug bust could be worth as much as $3 million on the international market. (Photo: Jamaica Defence Force)

Jamaican authorities continue to boost operations at sea. Jamaica’s 92,000 square miles of maritime domain—25 times greater than its landmass—falls under the responsibility of the JDF Coast Guard and its staff of nearly 300. The naval unit recently beefed up its maritime border protection and security capacities with the 2017 acquisition of two new Stan Patrol 4207 offshore patrol vessels. The vessels joined a fleet of eight patrol, inshore patrol, and coastal interceptors.

The JDF Coast Guard is also set to receive a maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) that will supplement its maritime security duties from the skies. The aircraft was approved for purchase in 2017.

“Most of our successful interdictions have been in tandem with air support to help us detect or put surface assets unto the specific target,” said Captain Antonette Wemyss Gorman, commanding officer of the JDF Coast Guard, of joint efforts with the JDF Air Wing. “The MPA will not arrive until October of this year [2018]. It’s a King Air 350. It’s currently being outfitted with the relevant equipment.”

Combined operations

In the first quarter of 2018, JDF, along with Dutch Caribbean Coast Guard units, participated in the U.S. Coast Guard Atlantic Area-led combined operation Riptide. The focus of the operation was the fight against drug trafficking in the Caribbean and being able to dismantle transnational criminal networks. Riptide also strengthened the bonds of friendship with partner nations and promoted operational coordination.

“Jamaica is a critical partner in our efforts to combat the efforts of transnational criminal networks seeking to exploit the maritime domain,” said U.S. Navy Commander Carmen DeGeorge, commanding officer of USCGC Resolute, which participated in the operation. “The officers and crew of the Resolute were humbled to be part of this unique event.”

On March 17, Riptide interdicted two suspicious vessels and seized 1.3 tons of marijuana. Seven drug traffickers were detained as part of the operation.

“By working hand-in-hand with DHS [U.S. Department of Homeland and Security] and the nation of Jamaica, we were able to efficiently interdict the 2,600 pounds of marijuana,” Cmdr. DeGeorge said in a release upon the return of USCGC Resolute to its homeport in St. Petersburg, Florida, April 28th. “Today’s offload represents the ongoing commitment of U.S. and international partners to combat transnational criminal networks and promote stability across the Caribbean region.”

The JDF Coast Guard keeps up the fight against drug trafficking and protects its waters while sending a strong message to criminals. “We are serious about interdiction, and will use all resources available to deter and interdict illegal activities,” concluded Capt. Wemyss Gorman.

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