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Drug Interdiction
Coast Guard Office of Law Enforcement

The Coast Guard is the lead federal agency for maritime drug interdiction and shares lead responsibility for air interdiction with the U.S. Customs Service. As such, it is a key player in combating the flow of illegal drugs to the United States.

The Coast Guard's mission is to reduce the supply of drugs from the source by denying smugglers the use of air and maritime routes in the Transit Zone, a six million square mile area, including the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico and Eastern Pacific. In meeting the challenge of patrolling this vast area, the Coast Guard coordinates closely with other federal agencies and countries within the region to disrupt and deter the flow of illegal drugs. In addition to deterrence, Coast Guard drug interdiction accounts for nearly 56% of all U.S. government seizures of cocaine each year. For Fiscal Year 2000 the rate of Coast Guard cocaine seizures alone had an estimated import value of approximately $4.4 billion. Counter-drug smuggling mission background.

In 1870, Chinese immigrants became the first known drug smugglers when they began smuggling opium in merchant ship cargoes and baggage. Since then, drug smuggling by maritime routes has grown in size, scope and sophistication as demand skyrocketed. For example, around the turn of the century, when cocaine use was first in vogue, a relatively limited amount of the population was directly affected by the problems of cocaine abuse.

But in later years, as the drugs of choice shifted from cocaine to heroin and opium, then later to marijuana and back to cocaine, drug smugglers began utilizing maritime sea and air routes to transport larger shipments of drugs to the U.S. For nearly a century, the maritime drug smuggling business slowly evolved while the Coast Guard focused its attention on the major events of the day, including World War I, Prohibition, World War II, the Korean and Vietnam wars.

During the 1920's Congress tasked the Coast Guard with enforcing the 18th Amendment, necessitating a dramatic increase in resources and funding for the Coast Guard. The massive effort needed to curtail the substantial level of alcohol smuggling required the single largest appropriation for personnel and new ship construction in its history. In addition, the Navy transferred more than 20 WWI-era destroyers and minesweepers for conversion to the Coast Guard's battle with rum-runners, which ended with the 21st Amendment repealing Prohibition.

The Coast Guard's unique expertise in countering smuggling operations also came into play during the Vietnam War, when the Navy asked for our expertise to support "Operation Market Time," an intensive multi-year campaign to stop the Communist flow of arms and supplies by sea. The Coast Guard utilized its expertise in stopping smuggling while facilitating legitimate commerce. Our patrol boats and cutters patrolled 1,200 miles of coastline and had to contend with more than 60,000 junks and sampans. The Coast Guard and Navy's success in "Operation Market Time," substantially reduced the amount of at- sea smuggling, forcing the Viet Cong to use the longer and more difficult land route of the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Shortly after the war in Vietnam ended, the Coast Guard found itself fighting another war — a war that is still going on today with a determined, well-financed opposition. In the early 1970's maritime drug smuggling became a much more significant problem for the Coast Guard and we began making seizures while engaged in other operations, like Search and Rescue and Fisheries Law Enforcement. 1973 saw a dramatic increase in smuggling attempts and the Coast Guard conducted its first Coast Guard-controlled seizure on March 8, 1973, when the USCGC Dauntless boarded a 38-foot sports fisherman, the Big L and arrested its master and crew, with more than a ton of marijuana on board. Since then, the Coast Guard has seized countless tons of marijuana and cocaine.

Since Fiscal Year 1997 to present, the Coast Guard has seized 540,476 pounds of cocaine and 270,060 pounds of marijuana. red ribbon icon


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