Illegal Cocaine Concealed in Fishing Vessel Uncovered

Published Nov 25, 2014 3:06 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Oliver Hazard Perry-class guided-missile frigate USS Vandegrift (FFG 48) and a U.S. Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment (LEDET) intercepted approximately 875 pounds of cocaine being smuggled aboard a fishing vessel while on patrol in international waters off the coast of Central America.

Vandegrift is currently deployed to the 4th Fleet area of operations in support of Operation Martillo. 

"The quick response, professional conduct, and dedicated efforts of team Vandegrift and our embarked Coast Guard LEDET is exceptional," said Commander Luis Alva, commanding officer of Vandegrift. "I remain extremely proud and humble to serve with such a remarkable team."

Vandegrift's crew first detected a small suspect craft on radar. After closing in on the target, Vandegrift utilized an SH-60B Sea Hawk helicopter, flown by Sailors from Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron Light (HSL) 49, to further track and visually identify the suspicious vessel at sea.

The Eleventh Coast Guard District directed the Vandegrift to deploy its joint Coast Guard LEDET/Navy Visit Board Search and Seizure (VBSS) boat crew to intercept the vessel. Upon boarding, the LEDET searched the vessel, discovering approximately 400 individually wrapped packages of cocaine hidden within the ship. 

"Our crew remains focused and eager for continued operational success," said Commander Daryl Robbin, executive officer of Vandegrift. "We are very proud of our team onboard Vandegrift."

This marks Vandegrift's fourth successful smuggling interception in recent months, disrupting an approximated 5800 pounds of cocaine shipments off the coast of Central America.

Operation Martillo, a joint operation involving the U.S., European and Western Hemisphere partner-nations, targets illicit trafficking routes in the waters off Central America. Operation Martillo began in Jan. 2012. U.S. Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM) leads the U.S. military involvement in the Joint Operation Task Force.

Overall coordination of counter-drug patrols and surveillance in the Eastern Pacific is done by a joint interagency task force headquartered in Key West, Florida. U.S. maritime law enforcement and the interdiction phase of operations in the region occurs under the tactical control of the Eleventh Coast Guard District headquartered in Alameda, California.

U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command and U.S. 4th Fleet support USSOUTHCOM's joint and combined military operations by employing maritime forces in cooperative maritime security operations to maintain access, enhance interoperability and build enduring partnerships in order to enhance regional security and promote peace, stability and prosperity in the Caribbean, Central and South American regions.