CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Office of Air and Marine agents working as part of Operation Martillo detected cocaine runs in five separate incidents resulting in the interdiction of more than 5,900 pounds of cocaine worth more than $441.8 million.
The five incidents occurred the last week of May in the Pacific Ocean near Central America.
The first incident was recorded May 28 when a CBP P-3 Airborne Early Warning aircraft supporting Joint Inter Agency Task Force – South detected a go-fast vessel moving in the open waters near Costa Rica. The CBP crew coordinated with JIATF-S who alerted Costa Rican officials. Costa Rica deployed two boats to intercept the go-fast. Costa Rican authorities apprehended three Colombian nationals and seized the vessel along with nearly 600 pounds of cocaine.
The following day, the same crew detected a two-engine panga heading north from El Salvador. The boat appeared to be carrying 16 fuel barrels and packages. The CBP crew contacted a U.S. Coast Guard cutter also supporting JIATF-S to intercept the boat. Before the cutter could reach the vessel, its crew began dumping packages and changing its course of direction. U.S. Coast Guard recovered more than 700 pounds of cocaine that was dumped overboard.
The next disruption occurred May 30, the CBP crew was operating its P-3 AEW in open waters southwest of the Guatemala and El Salvador border. The crew detected a go-fast boat with 10 fuel barrels and multiple other containers aboard. The CBP crew obtained visual confirmation of the suspect vessel and relayed the information to JIATF-S. A U.S. Coast Guard cutter was deployed to the scene and arrested the vessel’s crew of four, seized the vessel and recovered more than 1600 pounds of cocaine.
The following day, May 31, CBP crew detected two twin-engine panga boats navigating in open waters near El Salvador. The first panga was heading in a northwesterly direction away from El Salvador. The CBP crew notified JIATF-S who deployed a U.S. Coast Guard cutter to the area and after using disabling fire boarded one of the panga boats. The boat’s crew of three were apprehended and the vessel with more than 1700 pounds of cocaine were seized.
A second incident of the day occurred hours later when, the CBP crew detected the second twin-engine panga navigating in the open waters southwest of El Salvador. The CBP crew contacted a U.S. Coast Guard cutter who deployed a helicopter. The USCG crew aboard the helicopter fired warning shots and the boat crew came to a stop. The crew aboard the panga threw more than 1200 pounds of cocaine overboard.
“Our CBP P-3 crews are among the most efficient at detecting boats navigating in open waters and attempting to avoid identification,” said NASOC-CC Director John Wassong. “We continue to actively supporting JIAT-South as part of Operation Martillo by patrolling 42 million square miles of open waters to disrupt narcotics smuggling before those drugs reach U.S. shores.”
Operation Martillo includes the participation of 15 nations that work together to counter transnational organized crime and illicit trafficking in waters along the Central American isthmus. Joint Interagency Task Force South, a National Task Force, oversees the detection and monitoring of illicit traffickers and assists U.S. and multinational law enforcement agencies with the interdiction of these illicit traffickers.
OAM P-3s have been an integral part of the successful counter-narcotic missions operating in coordination with JIATF South. The P-3s patrol in a 42 million-square mile area which includes more than 41 nations, the Pacific Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean Sea, and seaboard approaches to the United States.
In Fiscal Year 2014, CBP's P-3s operating from Corpus Christi, Texas, and Jacksonville, Florida, flew more than 5,900 hours in support of counternarcotic missions resulting in 135 interdiction events of suspected smuggling vessels and aircraft. These events led to the total seizure or disruption of 126,489 pounds of cocaine with an estimated street value of $9.47 billion.