A Coast Guard crew offloaded cocaine and marijuana valued at more than $223 million in San Diego Thursday, the result of separate recent interdiction missions on Eastern Pacific drug routes.
The seizures were made by several ships between late February and early March in international waters off the coasts of Central and South America. More than 11,300 pounds of cocaine and more than 4,000 pounds of marijuana were seized from eight suspected smuggling vessels in total, said Coast Guard officials.
The Eastern Pacific has become a key battleground on the cocaine-trafficking front. Pure cocaine sourced largely from South America is smuggled at sea on custom, low-profile vessels with the assistance of Central American trafficking groups that specialize in maritime operations, according to several court cases reviewed by the Union-Tribune.
The drug often comes ashore somewhere along the western coast of Mexico, where it is then smuggled by land on well-established routes controlled by Mexican cartels. It is then crossed into the United States in cars or commercial trucks at ports of entry.
The U.S., with cooperation from other Latin American countries and Canada, has in recent years dedicated increased resources to the area — from Navy and Coast Guard ships to San Diego-based prosecutors — to curb the illicit flow and break up trafficking organizations.
“At-sea interdictions of pure cocaine are the most effective way to limit cartels’ destabilizing effects throughout the Western Hemisphere,” Vice Admiral Michael McAllister, Coast Guard Pacific Area commander, said in a statement.
Drug traffickers have responded in kind, shifting their routes farther south and west — a new path known as the South of Galapagos route — which can add hundreds of miles to the journey, according to a search warrant affidavit filed in January. The vessels often rendezvous with commercial fishing boats that act as logistics support and re-suppliers near the Galapagos Islands.
The latest cache of drugs was offloaded from the Coast Guard Cutter Kimball, which is homeported in Honolulu. However, the seizures were made by a number of boats, including the Legare and the Spencer, both cutters based in Portsmouth, Va. The Kimball was assisted on one interdiction by the Royal Canadian Navy ship Yellowknife, homeported in British Columbia.
Coast Guard officials did not say if any suspected traffickers were taken into custody during the interdictions or reveal any additional operational details.
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