U.S. Coast Guard officials conducted a massive drug bust, which spanned over a 26-day period. The find netted 16 tons of cocaine, which has an estimated value of $420 million, officials said at a news conference at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale. Fox affiliate WSVN reported that the drugs have a street value of over $1 billion.
The nearly month-long mission was conducted in the international waters of the Eastern Pacific. The operation included the U.S. Coast Guard partnering with Canadian and interagency officials. Over 17 separate suspected drug-smuggling vessels were intercepted in Central and South America, the agency said in a news release.
U.S. Coast Guard cutter James and HITRON aviation unit were responsible for five drug interceptions, which seized an estimated 5.19 tons of cocaine. The new cutter James carries a helicopter and boats that facilitate quick deployment.
“I am extremely proud of the crew of Coast Guard Cutter James and our embarked HITRON aviation detachment for a highly successful inaugural patrol,” said Vice Admiral Karl Schultz, commander of Coast Guard Atlantic Area, in a statement. “Our persistent maritime presence in drug trafficking zones from cutters like James, enables us to interdict bulk quantities of drugs at sea, preventing criminal networks’ illicit cargoes from reaching the shores of Central America, and land routes into the United States.”
U.S. Coast Guard Captain Mark Fedor highlighted the dangers crews faced during the mission. “To look at those bales as just cocaine is short-sighted,” Fedor said. “When those smugglers are racing across the Caribbean or the Pacific, they’re just not carrying cocaine. They’re delivering violence, corruption and instability to a part of the world – the western hemisphere – that just can’t absorb it.”