FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP/WAVY) — The U.S. Coast Guard has seized nearly 35,000 pounds (15,000 kilograms) of cocaine from apparent drug smuggling vessels in the eastern Pacific Ocean.
The drugs were off-loaded Tuesday in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Cmdr. Michael Sharp told reporters the drugs were found over the last three months aboard fishing vessels and go-fast boats outfitted to conceal contraband and evade authorities.
“Overall, it was a hugely successful patrol for not just us, but for the other Cutters that were down there with us.” said Sharp.
Six crews seized the drugs from 21 separate vessels stopped in Pacific waters off Mexico and Central and South America.
The Portsmouth-based Coast Guard Cutter Forward seized over 14,000 pounds of cocaine during its patrol. Collectively, 34,780 pounds of cocaine were seized, according to the Coast Guard.
“I’ve been doing this for 18 years now and honestly speaking, I don’t think we’ve ever been as successful since I’ve been in on one of the east Pacific patrols,” said Chief Petty Officer Joe Hoff.
Sharp said the drugs had a wholesale value of roughly $466 million.
The guard’s commandant, Adm. Karl Schultz, said in the last few years, crews have seized 1.3 million pounds (0.6 million kilograms) of cocaine and detained 1,200 suspects at sea.
Schultz said most of the drugs originate in Colombia and are destined for the U.S.
“At any given time, there are drugs on the water with a final desitnation of the United States,” said Sharp. “I think by removing 15 tons of cocaine from American streets, we’re saving lives.”
The ship has been deployed since November, which means the crew worked without pay through the government shutdown.
Hoff said, “I think most people managed to stay focused, stay on point, and try to make it as succesful as possible. The success of what we were doing out there I think outweighed the natural inclination to be worried of what happens next.”
The crew also completed a successful search and rescue mission, saving three fishermen.