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Fighting the war offshore

U.S. Coast Guard seizes tons of cocaine and marijuana in Pacific and Caribbean in 2002. Approximately 80% of illegal narcotics that enter the United States via maritime routes each year are transported on go-fast type vessels, which are normally between 30 and 40 feet long, capable of traveling in excess of 50 knots (58mph), and capable of carrying up to 3 tons of cocaine.
The Coast Guard created "Operation New Frontier" (first announced in September 1999), and has successfully stopped every go-fast pursued by Operation New Frontier assets. Using a combination of new armed helicopters and larger, faster interceptor boats launched from Coast Guard cutters, netted more than 19 tons of cocaine and 5.5 tons of marijuana during January and February 2002 in the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea.
"Three of these seizures in the Caribbean were part of Operation New Frontier with armed helicopters using warning shots and disabling fire to stop the drug-laden speedboats used by smugglers," said LCDR Brendan McPherson, Public Affairs Officer for the Coast Guard Atlantic Area, headquartered in Portsmouth. "This unique combination of air and sea assets is greatly improving our capability to stop go-fast smugglers in their tracks," McPherson added.
The Coast Guard began experimenting with the use of armed helicopters in 1999. Since then, Operation New Frontier forces have interdicted and seized eight vessels and made 29 arrests. In eight attempts to interdict smugglers using the armed helicopters, all eight resulted in seizures and arrests. Prior to Operation New Frontier, the Coast Guard's rate of success in interdicting the stealthy go-fast boat was 1 out of 10 successful interdictions. The go-fast often outran or outmaneuvered the cutters at sea.
"Operation New Frontier, and our joint Navy, Coast Guard law enforcement detachment operations are proven successes that help secure our borders far from shore and nearer to the source of the threat," said Rear Admiral Jay Carmichael, Commander of the Seventh Coast Guard District, Headquartered in Miami, directing operations in the Southeast United States and Caribbean. "These are strategic successes that are born from close cooperation between U.S. military, federal law enforcement and our international partners," he added.
"Successful operations like these make a tremendous difference. The terrorist attacks of September 11th have created a new awareness of our domestic vulnerability and highlight the need for protecting our borders," said John P. Walters, Director of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). "Effective interdiction efforts disrupt drug trafficker operations and protect our citizens. We are proud of the close interagency coordination between all the federal agencies involved - these operations have kept a huge amount of cocaine from reaching the streets of the United States," he said.
The Coast Guard cutters Boutwell, Hamilton, Midgett, Steadfast, Gallatin, Decisive and a Coast Guard Law Enforcement Team aboard a U.S. Navy vessel made the seizures during counter drug patrols. This was the first deployment of Operation New Frontier resources in the Pacific, and the success of this effort sets the stage for future similar deployments.
On January 15, the crew of the 210-foot Coast Guard cutter Steadfast, homeported in Warrenton, Oregon, recovered 2.2 tons of marijuana from a 30-foot "go-fast" vessel and turned the vessel, marijuana and three crewmen over to Mexican naval authorities.
On January 16, the crew of the 378-foot Coast Guard cutter Midgett, homeported in Seattle, chased a go-fast vessel, catching it, its six crewmen, and recovering 925 pounds of cocaine. On January 24, the Midgett's crew caught another go-fast vessel with four crewmen, and 733 pounds of cocaine.
On January 26, the helicopter crew deployed aboard cutter Steadfast located another go-fast vessel, which jettisoned its load of 1.8 tons of marijuana during the pursuit.
On February 3, the crew of the 378-foot Coast Guard cutter Boutwell, homeported in Alameda, Calif., recovered 2.5 tons of cocaine from a 40-foot "go fast" boat and took into custody four crewmen for prosecution in the U.S.
On February 10, a Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment from Miami, Florida, deployed aboard a U.S. Navy vessel intercepted the 65-foot Colombian flagged fishing vessel Paulo and its crew of nine, with 12.65 tons of cocaine, the second largest Coast Guard cocaine seizure to date. (The largest Coast Guard seizure was 13.6 tons aboard the Belizian flagged fishing vessel Svesda Maru in April 2001.).
On February 12, the Coast Guard Cutters Boutwell and Hamilton, working together with interdiction helicopters and fast interceptor boats, stopped a 40-foot go-fast and its six-person crew that jettisoned 3.4 tons of cocaine into the Pacific Ocean off Costa Rica.
On February 19, the Coast Guard cutter Gallatin, based in Charleston, S.C., was alerted to a suspect speedboat by a military aircraft. Interdiction helicopters from the Gallatin and Decisive used disabling fire to stop the vessel 130 miles south of Jacmel, Hati. Crews from the cutters took the four suspects and 1,200 pounds of cocaine into custody.
On March 12, the cutters Boutwell and Hamilton located and chased two go-fast vessels which jettisoned their cargo. One go-fast vessel was stopped and 1.5 tons of marijuana recovered. The 3 crewmen were turned over to Mexican naval authorities for prosecution.

In the picture: Drug suspects jettison bails of drugs unaware that they are being photographed by FLIR from 12 miles away. (USCG)