Coast Guard unloads $338M of cocaine from drug busts at sea

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SAN DIEGO — U.S. Coast Guard crews returned to San Diego Monday morning with nearly 20,000 pounds of cocaine seized in a series of drug busts at sea.

The cocaine, which the military valued at a staggering $338 million, was taken from smugglers during eight different encounters from mid-November to mid-January, the Coast Guard said. The busts were made in an area of the eastern Pacific Ocean that is frequently used for drug trafficking.

Drug mules typically use small boats and semi-submersible vessels, referred to as “narco subs,” to ferry narcotics across the sea. When military surveillance teams spot the smugglers, they alert cutter crews patrolling nearby, who race to confront the vessels.

Bundles of cocaine, worth an estimated $338 million, sit on the docks at Naval Base San Diego after being seized by Coast Guard crews.

When authorities catch up to the smugglers, it often results in dramatic arrests, with Coast Guard boats racing alongside the drug mules, ordering them to stop and hopping aboard to take people into custody.

In July, authorities released video of a Coast Guard member leaping onto one of the subs while it was still moving, pounding on the hatch and arresting smugglers in a bust that yielded 16,000 pounds of cocaine.

Crews unloaded the drug packages and officials held a news conference to announce the most recent round of busts at Naval Base San Diego Monday morning.

Crews dedicated months on patrol to pull in such a significant haul, “missing things like birthdays, anniversaries, special occasions,” Cutter Munro Capt. Jim Estramonte said. “For this patrol it meant missing Christmas and New Years. But that time away was worth it, as it allowed Munro to disrupt the cycle of the violence and crime that comes from the transnational narcotics trade.”

In addition to the drugs that were seized, 26 suspected smugglers were detained in the series of interdictions, Estramonte said.

Four different cutter crews — from the Thetis, Resolute, Tampa and Munro — were responsible for the seizures, the Coast Guard said.

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