U.S. Coast Guard Offloads $240M Worth of Cocaine in San Diego

Crew of USCGC Waesche on the back deck with pallets of drugs
Courtesy USCG

Published Dec 7, 2023 7:29 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Wednesday, the crew of the cutter USCGC Waesche delivered more than eight tonnes of cocaine to the pier in San Diego, removing about $240 million worth of the lucrative drug from circulation. The street value of the haul is equal to about one third of Waesche's purchase price. 

The U.S. Coast Guard usually assigns one cutter to return the drug seizures of multiple vessels at the end of its patrol, and Waesche was also delivering the haul of the cutter USCGC Active. Waesche's crew accounted for the overwhelming majority with a total haul of about 6.5 tonnes. A third of it came from a single interdiction: Waesche's crew busted a semisubmersible drug-running boat that was carrying 2.5 tonnes of the drug in its hold. 

“All four of our interdictions on this patrol are crucial to the Coast Guard’s efforts to keep illicit drugs off the streets, but our last interdiction of a semi-submersible vessel was noteworthy since it was the first semi-submersible interdicted in the Eastern Pacific in over three years,” said Capt. Robert Mohr, commanding officer of the Waesche.

The Colombian Navy regularly claims to intercept semisubmersibles, and says that it has seized more than 230 over the past 30 years, including many off the nation's Pacific Coast. However, the Colombian definition of "semisubmersibles" appears to include "low-profile vessels," which resemble speedboats and ride higher in the water. In May, Colombian forces captured a giant example nearly 100 feet long and laden with three tonnes of cocaine.  

Separately, Mohr gave a nod to the recruiting and retention benefits of drug-hunting missions like Waesche's. Morale has value in an era of serious manpower challenges for the armed forces; the Coast Guard says that it is shorthanded by about 10 percent of its manning requirements and has had to adjust its operations accordingly. 

The USCG Waesche is a National Security Cutter, one of the Coast Guard's highest-end assets. Commissioned in 2010, the 418-foot-long cutter boasts a top speed of 28 knots and a range of 12,000 nautical miles. She is equipped with a flight deck and hangars capable of housing two helicopters, which are essential for running down drug boats. 

The Coast Guard leads the high-seas drug interdiction effort in the Eastern Pacific and Caribbean. It has the jurisdiction for boardings, arrests and seizures, and its officers conduct the law enforcement phase of all operations (including interdictions conducted by partner nations' vessel platforms). Multiple U.S. agencies and international partner agencies also play a role in finding and tracking drug-running vessels.