SAN DIEGO — Coast Guard crews in San Diego Wednesday unloaded an estimated 11,500 pounds of cocaine seized from international waters over the past two months.
The drugs, priced at roughly $220 million if sold on the street, were seized from four smuggling vessels that authorities stopped off the coasts of Mexico, Central and South America during April and May, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.
Military officials shared photos from their operation, with one showing Coast Guard members standing atop a semi-submersible vessel often called a “narco sub,” which they stopped as it cruised through international waters near known drug smuggling routes. Another photo showed an aerial view of a panga, the small fishing boats often used to smuggle people and drugs into the U.S., loaded down with bundles as a crew pulled alongside.
A dozen people were taken into custody during the interdictions, officials said. They’ll face federal charges.
The Coast Guard cutters Active, Steadfast and Tahoma made the busts. They were assisted by a network of other U.S. agencies, including the U.S. Navy, Customs and Border Protection, the FBI, DEA and ICE.
At least in some cases, the Coast Guard said the drug busts were also carried out with “international partner agencies.” The Maritime Drug Law Enforcement Act of 1986 made smuggling in international waters a crime against the U.S., so anyone caught moving drugs on the water could be prosecuted even if those drugs were not bound for the U.S.
The Coast Guard is the agency tasked with hunting down potential smugglers, arresting them and bringing them to the U.S. for prosecution. Federal authorities seized the drugs once unloaded at port in San Diego Wednesday.
“These loads represent crime that will not occur on U.S. streets,” Rear Adm. Brian Penoyer said at a news conference held folllowing the offloading process. “They represent lives that will not be disrupted by dangerous narcotics and more importantly, they represent real dollars out of the pockets of the transnational criminal organizations.”
The Active is a 210-foot medium endurance cutter with a homeport of Port Angeles, Washington. The Steadfast is a 210-foot medium endurance cutter, based in Astoria, Oregon. The Tahoma is a 270-foot medium endurance cutter, commissioned in 1988 and homeported in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.