U.S. Coast Guard offloads $63 million of cocaine after shootout at sea sinks suspected drug smuggling boat and crew

June 7, 2024
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The U.S. Coast Guard said it offloaded more than 4,800 pounds of cocaine worth over $63 million at a port in Florida on Thursday — two days after officials said Coast Guard officers fired at and sank a speedboat suspected of smuggling drugs in the Caribbean Sea.

The cocaine offloaded on Thursday was the result of two operations off the coast of Puerto Cabello, Venezuela, the Coast Guard said in a social media post. The operation was conducted by a Royal Netherlands Navy patrol boat, which had a Coast Guard law enforcement detachment and helicopter interdiction tactical squadron on board.

The announcement of the cocaine seizures came just two days after authorities said the same Dutch navy ship and U.S. Coast Guard assets in the Caribbean Sea “identified a vessel suspected of smuggling narcotics in international waters.” Officials said in a news release Thursday that the suspected drug vessel, a speedboat, failed to stop early Tuesday morning when signaled and instead headed straight toward the Dutch patrol boat.

Dutch Navy officers and U.S. Coast Guard members on board the patrol boat fired their weapons at the speedboat “in self-defense and defense of others in response to the life-threatening situation,” officials said. The speedboat caught fire and sank, and three suspected smugglers went overboard and disappeared below the water, the Coast Guard said.  

The U.S. Coast Guard, Royal Netherlands Navy and Dutch Caribbean Coast Guard suspended search efforts for the three suspects on Tuesday evening, officials said. There were no reported injuries to the Dutch and U.S. officers.

“The Coast Guard is America’s primary maritime law enforcement agency, and our crews work hard to safely bring suspected smugglers to face federal prosecution in the United States for alleged crimes,” Lt. Cmdr. John W. Beal said in a statement Thursday.

The cocaine seizure and shootout in the Caribbean Sea come about a week after a separate Coast Guard crew offloaded $468 million worth of cocaine in San Diego.  That haul was the result of eight separate operations off the coasts of Mexico and Central and South America.   

International drug traffickers routinely use different kinds of boats to move narcotics. In May, Italian police announced the seizure of a remote-controlled submarine likely intended to transport drugs as part of an international drug trafficking network. Also last month, the French navy said it seized 2.4 tons of cocaine from a Venezuelan fishing boat about 1,500 kilometers northeast of the Caribbean island of Martinique.

In March, authorities announced a massive cocaine shipment seizure in the Caribbean Sea off of Colombia after military ships and planes chased down a speedboat holding almost four tons of the drug.

Earlier that month, a British warship and an American patrol aircraft chased down a speedboat as its crew tried to flee and dump its cargo of drugs into the water near the U.S. Virgin Islands. British sailors and a U.S. Coast Guard team eventually recovered about 6,000 pounds of cocaine and other drugs, officials said.

Much larger semi-submersibles, which cannot go fully underwater, are popular among international drug traffickers as they can often elude detection by authorities. The so-called “narco-subs” are sometimes seized in Colombian waters while heading to the United States, Central America and Europe.    

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