Customs Aircrew Spots Drug Bales Stowed on Deck
On Saturday afternoon, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection maritime patrol aircraft crew spotted a 30-foot launch south of Patillas, Puerto Rico, with a collection of packages uncovered and visible on deck.
The aircrew alerted Coast Guard Sector San Juan, which dispatched the 150-foot cutter Richard Dixon to intercept the vessel. The crew of the Dixon successfully interdicted the boat and found multiple bales of drugs on board, including 490 kilos of cocaine and 9.2 kilos of a substance believed to be heroin. The estimated wholesale value of the shipment exceeds $13 million. Two suspects - one American citizen from Puerto Rico and one Dominican Republic national - were detained and transferred to shore at San Juan.
“DEA warns drug traffickers, especially across the Caribbean, that we are hunting them down in an all-year-round open season," said Reinaldo R. López, the Drug Enforcement Agency's Caribbean Division Associate Special Agent in Charge.
Cocaine-smuggling interdictions are a regular occurance off Puerto Rico. The island holds an advantage as a drug transshipment point: once in Puerto Rico, narcotics can fade into the regular flow of commercial cargo to the U.S. mainland without being subject to the scrutiny of customs inspections. Last month, Coast Guard crew intercepted a go-fast boat off Puerto Rico with 900 kilos of cocaine on board, and in February, the cutter Joseph Napier intercepted a fishing vessel in the eastern Caribbean with nearly 4,000 kilos of drugs on board.
“As the cocaine flow from South America continues to increase, law enforcement partners in the Eastern Caribbean Region have to increase our collaborative efforts in order to effectively respond to the threat,” said James Doby, Assistant Special Agent in Charge (ASAC) DEA Caribbean Division.