Navy Assists Coast Guard, U.S. Customs
With Record Maritime Cocaine Seizure
By JO1(SW) Scott Sutherland
Naval Station San Diego Public Affairs
SAN DIEGO (NWS) The U.S. Attorney's office in San Diego
announced details about the largest cocaine bust in maritime history
during a May 14 news conference.
The crew of the Coast Guard cutter Active (WMEC 618) seized more
than 12 metric tons of cocaine approximately 26,400 pounds
stashed aboard the 152-foot Belize- registered Svesda Maru
fishing vessel about 1,500 miles south of San Diego on May 3.
A U.S. Navy Spruance-class destroyer with a Coast Guard law enforcement
detachment (LEDET) from San Diego embarked was conducting counter-drug
operations in the area. The destroyer intercepted the vessel, which
was manned by a crew of eight Ukrainians and two Russians. The LEDET
boarded and began searching the Svesda Maru.
Later, an Active boarding team arrived on scene, relieved the destroyer
and the LEDET, and discovered the contraband. The suspect vessel
was initially sighted by a U.S. Customs Service P-3 aircraft, and
later identified by a Coast Guard C 130 aircraft.
Both Active and Svesda Maru were in port at Naval Station San Diego
during the news conference. Local media were able to photograph
the seized cocaine, which was guarded under tight security on the
pier. With Active and the seized vessel as backdrops, Coast Guard
Pacific Area commander Vice Adm. Ray Riutta and U.S. Attorney Gregory
A. Vega spoke to the press about the record seizure.
"On the pier behind me is $600 million in drugs that won't
be entering this country, thanks to the brave men and women of many
law enforcement agencies," said Riutta. "This is a textbook
example of interagency cooperation that included the U.S. Customs
Service, which first spotted the vessel at sea south of Acapulco,
the U.S. Navy, who initially stopped the vessel, and the crew of
Active, whose crew discovered the contraband. This proves, once
again, the agility and value of close partnerships between sister
agencies and other regional governments."
The recent cocaine seizure is the third by the Coast Guard in two
weeks in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. Riutta said all the seizures
netted nearly 37,000 pounds of cocaine.
"The combined efforts of law enforcement agencies represented
here today have prevented well over 100,000 pounds of drugs from
reaching our city streets and playgrounds this fiscal year,"
Riutta said. "We're using every tool at our disposal to keep
these illegal drugs off our streets."
According to the Coast Guard, the largest cocaine seizure prior
to this case was 24,325 pounds in July 1995. Meanwhile, Vega said
the drugs seized aboard Svesda Maru were secluded in a hidden compartment.
"However, it's important to note that all personnel involved
are prepared to address the different and changing patterns that
drug traffickers are using to smuggle cocaine in our country,"
stated Vega. "Law enforcement is becoming more proactive in
detecting and seizing drugs before they reach our borders."
Vega added that Svesda Maru was seized in waters "not traditionally
known as a fishing area." The smugglers face charges of smuggling
on the high seas, which could result in life imprisonment.