Coast Guard cutter seizes $78 million in cocaine

The Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf sails in the Arctic Ocean just north of Barrow, Alaska, in August 2012.


By PETER HEGARTY | The Contra Costa Times (Tribune News Service) | Published: March 23, 2018

ALAMEDA — The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf returned to their homeport of Alameda on Wednesday after they seized cocaine worth an estimated $78 million during a patrol in the Eastern Pacific Ocean.

The 77-day patrol took place in international waters off the coasts of Central and South America.

The Bertholf’s crew also seized what’s known as a low-profile go-fast vessel — a type of boat designed to avoid detection while on the water — and three fishing vessels that were allegedly carrying narcotics during the patrol.

The boardings resulted in the seizure of 5,045 pounds of cocaine and seven gallons of liquid cocaine with an estimated street value of more than $78 million wholesale, the Coast Guard said.

One fishing vessel that was boarded was towing four panga’s at night. Coast Guard members searched the vessel for 12 hours and found the liquid cocaine in a concealed compartment within one of the pangas, according to investigators.

The day before the Bertholf returned to Alameda, its crew help offload in San Diego nearly 36,000 pounds of cocaine worth more than $539 million wholesale. The offload represented 17 separate interdictions made by the Coast Guard Cutters Bertholf, Diligence, Harriet Lane, Venturous and Bear since Feb. 8.

“The transnational organized crime groups behind the drug trade spread instability, fear, and harm to people, communities and entire nations,” Capt. John Driscoll, Bertholf’s commanding officer, said in a statement. “This load of seized contraband denies traffickers about half a billion dollars’ worth of illicit proceeds that would have gone to fund the nefarious work of transnational criminal organizations, and this seizure helps prevent a great deal of human suffering, and will likely save hundreds of lives that would have been lost to these illegal drugs. I’m proud of the hard work and dedication of my crew, as well as the crews of Coast Guard Cutters Bear, Diligence, Harriet Lane, Venturous and the joint and interagency personnel who work hand-in-hand to secure our nation.”

During at-sea interdictions in international waters, a suspect vessel is initially located and tracked by U.S. or allied military or law enforcement personnel. The interdictions and boardings are conducted by the Coast Guard.

The Bertholf is the first of the Legend Class National Security Cutters. The 418-foot cutter is staffed by a 148-person crew.

©2018 the Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.)
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