Coast Guard seizes $350 million of cocaine in the Caribbean

The U.S. Coast Guard is showing off the fruits of a successful drug-seizing tour in Miami. Crew members aboard the USCGC Legare unloaded more than 3.5 tons of cocaine from the Caribbean on Tuesday afternoon.

It was the culmination of the ship's seven-week deployment patrolling Caribbean waters, reported CBS News correspondent Vicente Arenas. The cocaine was uncovered in two separate seizures in March and have a street value of more than $350 million.

On March 15, a fishing boat believed to be carrying drugs off the coast of Panama caught fire and sank after law enforcement teams boarded and searched the vessel. Shortly after, 97 bales of cocaine were found floating in the water.

Just days later, a ship in the Caribbean -- allegedly operated by drug dealers -- was intercepted. A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter shot out the boat's engine, prompting the smugglers to try and dump the cocaine off the side of the ship. Members of the Coast Guard retrieved the drugs and sent the men to Colombia for prosecution.

"In this case we were successful in finding two drug-smuggling vessels using our capabilities, in particular our air use of forces, to stop the drug runners and to recover that cocaine," Capt. Brendan McPherson said.

Eighty percent of the cocaine brought into the U.S. travels over water. The Coast Guard is the only agency that can enforce both U.S. and international laws on the high seas.

"This is a substantial amount of cocaine ... that's not going to reach the shores of the United States," said Lt. Cmdr. Gabe Somma.

In the last five years, nearly 1 million pounds of cocaine were seized by the U.S. Coast Guard.

"Each and every day our men and women are on ships at sea flying in the air, focused on the counter-drug mission," McPherson said. "It's one of the core missions that we do for the Coast Guard. It's one of the core missions we do for the nation. And we help protect our borders."

In spite of this most recent success, the Coast Guard said they were only able to intercept a third of suspected drug smuggling boats in the last year. They point to budget cuts as a main cause for the drop.

The drugs off-loaded from this haul will be handed over to the Drug Enforcement Administration and be destroyed.

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