MIAMI BEACH (CBSMiami) - Nearly $12 million in drugs seized at sea by the Coast Guard was offloaded at their Miami Beach base Friday morning.
The 254 kilograms of cocaine and 3,662 pounds of marijuana were confiscated as part of Operation Martillo, an international effort to take down smugglers using Central America as a trans-shipment route for illicit drugs, weapons, and cash.
"That's $11 million worth of drugs that won't reach the streets of New York, Chicago, Miami or the central Caribbean," said U.S. Coast Guard spokesman Timothy Cronin.
The cocaine was found on a Panamanian flagged vessel southeast of Nicaragua on September 3rd. It was disguised in soybean and sugar bags and seized from smugglers in the Caribbean.
A maritime patrol aircraft called it in as suspicious and crew from the Coast Guard Cutter Robert Yered went to check it out.
With no response to radio calls, and the vessel not slowing down, a law enforcement team from the Robert Yered boarded the ship after receiving permission from the Panamanian government. They found the cocaine in a hidden compartment. It had an estimated wholesale value of $8.5 million. The people on the vessel were taken into custody and transferred to law enforcement in Tampa on September 12th.
"We want to keep these drugs off the streets. We want to get at the people who are bringing these drugs into the US, namely the criminal networks, the trans-national organized crime networks that are wreaking havoc across the Caribbean, Central America, and the US," said Cronin. "Those organizations threaten the security and prosperity of those countries."
Also on September 3rd, the Coast Guard received a report of three people clinging to a capsized vessel near Jamaica. The Coast Guard cutter Vigilant arrived on scene and rescued the three people from their nearly sunk boat. While on the way to the capsized vessel, the Vigilant located and recovered 68 bales of marijuana floating in the water. The 3,600 pounds of marijuana had an estimated wholesale value of $3.3 million.
"These seizures highlight the hard work and dedication of the U.S. Coast Guard and our interagency and international partners in stopping illegal drugs from reaching the streets of the U.S. and those of our Caribbean neighbors," said Lieutenant Earl Potter, Commanding Officer of the Miami-based Robert Yered.
This has been a record year for the Coast Guard. Since October 2014, the Coast Guard has seized nearly 130 metric tons of cocaine ($4.3 billion), the most since 2008. In addition, the Coast Guard and its federal partners have brought 439 smugglers in for prosecution and seized 135 vessels, both record highs. These numbers include seizures on both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts.
It's a violent business the U.S. Coast Guard is determined to end.
"It's no coincidence that many of the Central American countries have some of the highest murder rates in the world. That's a direct reflection of the instability and security threat that these drugs and those organizations bring to those countries," said Cronin.
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