In one of the biggest-ever drug busts on the high seas, the U.S. Coast Guard seized 9 tons of cocaine from a Colombian fishing trawler after being tipped off by the Colombian navy, authorities said Tuesday.
A U.S. Navy vessel stopped the trawler on Aug. 3, in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Ecuador, and a Miami, Fla.-based Coast Guard law-enforcement team boarded it and made the arrests and seizure.
U.S. officials announced indictments against ten Colombians and said an estimated 9 tons of cocaine were seized.
The crewmen and the cocaine were taken aboard the Navy ship and then transported to the Mayport Naval Station near Jacksonville and turned over to federal prosecutors.
"This interdiction is one of the largest single seizures in our ongoing investigation to stop the pipeline of drugs from the Eastern Pacific to the shores of the United States," said Mac Cauley, the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Florida in a statement.
The cocaine shipment had an estimated value of $270 million.
In July 1999, Spanish authorities said they discovered 10 tons of cocaine aboard a sailboat near Spain's Canary Islands. At the time, they called it the biggest single seizure of cocaine ever in Europe.
Rear Admiral Alonso Navarro said U.S. officials intercepted the trawler Suddarth said it was named "Recuerdo" with information provided by the Colombian navy, who knew of a large shipment of drugs leaving Colombia for an unnamed Central American country.
A 1997 Maritime Interdiction agreement between Colombia and the United States provides for intelligence-sharing and allows U.S. officials to even pursue drug smuggling boats in Colombian waters. The accord has led to the seizure of up to 110 tons of cocaine, Colombian officials say.
More than 80 percent of the cocaine in the United States is smuggled from Colombia, the world's largest producer of the drug.
The U.S. government is providing Colombian authorities with $1.3 billion in aid to fight the drug trade.
Authorities estimate they intercept 10 percent of the 700-800 tons of cocaine produced annually in Colombia.
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