WASHINGTON – In two separate actions, U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard personnel recently joined forces with the Nicaraguan navy and the Colombian navy to recover large quantities of cocaine and disrupt major contraband shipments in Western Hemisphere waters, according to the U.S. Southern Command (Southcom).
As one of nine unified combatant commands in the U.S. Defense Department, Southcom provides security cooperation with Central American, South American and Caribbean nations. It works with partner nations to fight the illegal activities associated with drug trafficking, which threatens stability in the Western Hemisphere.
On May 31, the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Valiant was on patrol in the Caribbean Sea. Its crew interdicted a go-fast vessel carrying approximately 1,204 kilograms of cocaine with a wholesale value of $32.5 million. The action was part of Operation Martillo (Hammer), a combined U.S., European and Western Hemisphere effort targeting illicit trafficking routes in coastal waters along the Central American isthmus.
U.S. military participation in Operation Martillo is being led by Joint Interagency Task Force South, a component of Southcom.
As described by Southcom officials, the interdiction episode unfolded in dramatic fashion.
Working with the U.S. Navy and international partners, Valiant and its helicopter crew spotted the go-fast vessel outfitted for smuggling with five crew members on board and suspicious bales on deck. The go-fast crew ignored repeated orders from the Coast Guard to stop and began to move erratically in an attempt to evade capture, throwing the bales of contraband into the water.
Valiant’s helicopter fired warning shots ahead of the vessel’s bow, but the vessel’s crew ignored the shots. Next, the helicopter crew fired disabling shots at one of the vessel’s outboard engines. Once the vessel was disabled, the Valiant’s law enforcement team boarded and took control of the vessel and the five suspected smugglers onboard.
The Nicaraguan navy deployed two small craft to aid the Coast Guard in recovery of the contraband. A total of 43 bales, which tested positive for cocaine, were recovered.
Commander John Detleff, commanding officer aboard the Valiant, praised the coordination between the cutter’s experienced personnel and its newer staffers.
“It was immediately gratifying for me to see our seasoned, proficient shipmates leading our new folks, and having both groups united with our embarked air crew to pull off a perfectly executed interdiction helping to keep drugs off our streets,” he said.
The five detainees were transferred to the custody of federal law enforcement officials.
Days later, on June 4, the guided-missile frigate USS Nicholas recovered 112 bales of cocaine, weighing approximately 2,227 kilograms, during an interdiction off the Pacific coast of Colombia, also in support of Operation Martillo.
The drug shipment was disrupted in a coordinated effort by crews from the Nicholas, the U.S. Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment (LEDET), the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Sherman and the Colombian navy.
Southcom officials said U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard LEDET personnel recovered contraband that was jettisoned from a go-fast vessel before the vessel entered Colombian territorial waters. The Colombian navy was in the vicinity and launched a patrol boat to intercept and seize the vessel.
By Southcom’s estimate, the wholesale value of the recovered drugs is more than $60 million and its street value is more than $367 million.
Contributions to Operation Martillo include U.S. Navy and Coast Guard vessels, aircraft from U.S. federal law enforcement agencies, and military and law enforcement units from various nations working together to deny transnational criminal organizations the ability to move narcotics, precursor chemicals, bulk cash and weapons along Central American shipping routes.
Fourteen countries participate in Operation Martillo: Belize, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, France, Guatemala, Honduras, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Panama, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States.
“More than 80 percent of the cocaine destined for U.S. markets is transported via sea lanes, primarily using littoral routes through Central America,” said Air Force General Douglas Fraser, Southcom’s commander. “Working with partner nations, we intend to disrupt [illicit] operations by limiting their ability to use Central America as a transit zone.”