SAN JUAN – The Puerto Rico Police Department and U.S. federal authorities seized more than a ton of cocaine found on a launch 30 kilometers (18 miles) off the coast of the southern city of Guayama.
The operation was carried out Monday, PRPD chief Hector Pesquera said, adding that the two men aboard the smuggling vessel were arrested.
Authorities found the drugs thanks to a tip from a citizen who noticed the launch’s crew behaving strangely when he towed the 33 foot vessel with his boat, the PRPD said.
After examining the vessel's documentation, inspecting officers found an expired boat registration. They proceeded to conduct a more in-depth inspection. Police noticed something suspicious in one of the launch’s fuel tanks and a closer inspection revealed 38 bales of cocaine with a total weight of 1,048 kilos (2202 pounds).
The cocaine had an estimated street value of more than $72 million.
"This significant seizure and the arrests of two individuals for allegedly attempting to import illegal drugs into the United States proves once more HSI's commitment to work with the Department of Homeland Security, local and other federal partners to stop the illegal traffic of narcotics," said Roberto Escobar Vargas, special agent in charge of HSI Puerto Rico. "Those engaged in the drug trafficking business should know that we will continue using all our resources to identify you, arrest you and prosecute you."
On Monday, strike force officers assigned to the Puerto Rico Police Department's Forces United for Rapid Action and Puerto Rico Department of Natural Resources personnel intercepted a suspicious boat towing a 33-foot vessel off the southern coast of Puerto Rico. After examining the vessel's documentation, inspecting officers found an expired boat registration. They proceeded to conduct a more in-depth inspection, which resulted in the discovery of 1,048 kilograms of cocaine.
Two U.S. citizens, Jorge Suarez-Alvelo, 41, of Corozal, Puerto Rico, and Joel Perpina-Quiles, 37, of Toa Alta, Puerto Rico, were arrested in conjunction with the seizure and were transferred to the Guaynabo Metropolitan Detention Center. They had their initial court hearing and remained detained.
This is the second major seizure in less than a week where federal and state authorities prevented large quantities of cocaine from being smuggled into the United States. On the evening of Aug. 1, HSI and strike force partners arrested two individuals and seized 450 kilograms of cocaine with an estimated street value of more than $32 million.
The PRPD has stepped up cooperation with federal law enforcement in response to an increase in drug smuggling activity in and around Puerto Rico, Pesquera said.