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USCG Cutter Bertholf Offloads $300M in Cocaine

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Image courtesy USCG

By The Maritime Executive 12-20-2019 10:54:00

On Wednesday, marking their return from their latest mission in the Eastern Pacific, the crew of the Coast Guard cutter Bertholf offloaded about nine tons of cocaine worth about $310 million on the pier in San Diego. 

The interdictions were made between mid-October and early December by the joint efforts of five cutter crews. Typically one cutter carries the cargo from multiple ships upon return to port.

The cutter Northland seized 3,300 pounds, the James seized 1,600 pounds, the Harriet Lane seized 5,000 pounds, Thetis seized 2,400 pounds, and Bertholf seized 5,800 pounds. Bertholf netted her catch in three interdictions, while the others intercepted one drug-running vessel each. 

“This offload demonstrates another successful example of the ‘cycle of justice,’ said Vice Adm. Linda L. Fagan, Coast Guard Pacific Area commander. “This cycle begins with intelligence-driven detection and monitoring of illicit activities that then cue the interdiction and apprehension of smugglers and contraband, and ultimately leads to criminal prosecution. This . . . disrupts a cycle of crime, which left unchecked, fuels violence and instability that corrodes our hemisphere's social and economic fabric."

The U.S. Coast Guard maintains an active presence in known drug transit zones in the Eastern Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Basin, part of a broad multi-national anti-narcotics operation in the Latin American region. During interdictions in international waters, each suspect vessel is located and tracked by allied, U.S. military or law enforcement personnel. The interdictions, including the boardings, are led and conducted by U.S. Coast Guardsmen. 

The effort has yielded impressive results. In FY2017, the Coast Guard seized about 445,000 pounds of cocaine worth an estimated $6 billion, compared with about 36,000 pounds seized on shore by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. 

“I am deeply proud of the work the men and women of the Bertholf have accomplished,” said Fagan. “I look at theirs as lifesaving work, and while we may never know how many lives were saved here today, this crew and all the crews involved in these interdictions should be proud of what they’ve achieved.”

About two percent of Americans use cocaine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the drug is involved in roughly one in five overdose deaths. In 2016 alone, about 10,000 Americans lost their lives in drug overdoses involving cocaine.