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Coast Guard crew nabs $455 million worth of narcotics

By PETER HEGARTY | The Oakland Tribune | Published: November 26, 2015

ALAMEDA, Calif. (Tribune News Service) — The crew of a Coast Guard cutter homeported here seized 30,000 pounds of illegal narcotics worth more than $455 million during a 104-day deployment, when they also boarded and searched a semi-submersible used by suspected drug traffickers.

Boarding teams from the Cutter Bertholf, which returned to Alameda on Tuesday from the mission in the eastern Pacific Ocean, spent two days aboard the self-propelled vessel, where they found more than 15,000 pounds of narcotics.

Semi-submersibles appear much like submarines and are often used by smugglers because they travel low in the water and are difficult to detect.

"We could not have scripted a deployment with more success, more interesting port calls, or a more dedicated crew," Capt. Laura Collins said in a release. "It's very satisfying to see all of our preparations culminate in this type of service — keeping dangerous substances from reaching our country."

During one phase of the deployment, the cutter's crew boarded and seized 11 smuggling vessels, detained 32 suspected narco-traffickers and prevented more than 30,000 pounds of illegal narcotics from reaching U.S. shores.

The crew also successfully pursued and detained nine different go-fast vessels on the high seas in less than seven days, when they worked with other Coast Guard units, the U.S. Department of Defense and other agencies.

For a portion of the deployment, the cutter traveled to Valparaiso, Chile, in support of UNITAS 2015, a multinational naval exercise with forces from 11 countries, including the U.S. Navy.

Bertholf's boarding teams conducted joint interdiction operations with Chilean and Mexican forces during the training exercise, boarding simulated rogue merchant vessels to seize smuggled weapons of mass destruction components as part of an international task force.

The return of the Bertholf on Tuesday followed the return of the Cutter Waesche, which is also homeported in Alameda, on Sunday after a 106-day deployment.

The Waesche departed Alameda in August for the 18,000-mile trip, which ranged from the coast of Southern California to the Arctic Ocean and Bering Sea.

The Waesche's crew carried out two weeks of weapons system testing and certification, patrolled the Arctic in support of Operation Arctic Shield, and enforced federal fisheries laws and safety regulations in the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea.

While in the Bering Sea, the Waesche also assisted in a search-and-rescue case that resulted in the successful medical evacuation of a fisherman.

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