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Coast Guard Offloads $41M In Seized Drugs

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MIAMI BEACH (CBSMiami) – Approximately $41 million in drugs seized at sea by the Coast Guard were offloaded Tuesday at their Miami Beach base.

The 1,100 kilograms of cocaine and 4,420 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 drugs, weapons, and cash.

As to why this is significant, the Coast Guard had this to say:

"This is very important because the Coast Guard and our partners in DHS [Department of Homeland Security] are really making an effort to stem the flow of drugs into the United States and to stabilize these countries in the Caribbean," said U.S. Coast Guard Captain Melissa Bert. "In Central America, Puerto Rico and in cities across the United States, drugs fuel violence and so we're really trying to stop that."

Capt. Bert told CBS4's Peter D'Oench, "This matters to all of us as Americans. We are watching the violence in Central America and how this impacts the United States. We are watching our own cities and how this is connected to this drug traffic is totally connected to the violence that we are seeing. We have been taking the brink of our resources to bear and we want to stabilize the western hemisphere and want to stop the drugs and stop the violence pouring into Puerto Rico and the United States. I can tell you when we keep drugs out this will be better for our folks and better for everyone in America."

Jesse Wozniak,  the Deputy Director for Customs and Border Protection in the southeast region and the Caribbean, told D'Oench, "This is significant. This is $30 million worth of cocaine. That's a lot of cocaine. This is a big hit to illicit operations out there."

There's been a spike in seizures in part because federal authorities are using more resources.

"The drug interception game is constantly changing," said Wozniak. "We are seeing new routes and new tactics. We are adapting to that constantly. This is an example of how things are working out right. This is what we are looking for. It's days like today that make it all worthwhile to have success."

In one of the seizures, a Coast Guard HC-144 Ocean Sentry aircraft spotted a suspicious go-fast boat southeast of Isla Saona, Dominican Republic on September 20th. A Coast Guard intercepted the boat as the people on board were dumping the drugs. Four packages were found floating in the water, multiple packages remained on board. A boarding team recovered a total of 49 bales of marijuana weighing 2,450 pounds. The three people aboard the go-fast boat were taken into custody.

This has been a record year for the Coast Guard. Since October 2014, the Coast Guard has confiscated 150 metric tons of cocaine, approximately $5 billion, the most since 2008. In addition, the Coast Guard and its federal partners have brought nearly 500 smugglers in more than 200 cases in for prosecution and seized over 135 vessels, both record highs.

It was just a week and a half ago on September 18th that nearly $12 million worth of cocaine and marijuana was offloaded at the Coast Guard base on Miami Beach. Authorities said $8.5 million worth of cocaine was found in hidden compartments in a Panamanian sailboat spotted by the Coast Guard off Nicaragua. The same day, three suspected smugglers were found clinging to a boat off Jamaica. They were rescued and handcuffed and $3.3 million worth of marijuana was found floating nearby.

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