MIAMI (CBS4) – A U.S. Coast Guard cutter had quite a catch off the coast of Panama on December 17th.
The Cutter Thetis was patrolling the waters roughly 162 nautical miles off the coast of Colon, Panama when they intercepted a go fast boat.
The intercepted boat needed to go fast because it was hauling roughly 62 bales of cocaine weighing a combined 3,400 pounds. The Coast Guard said the more than ton and a half of cocaine had an estimated wholesale street value of $48 million.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Special Agent Anthony Mangioni said the seizure is significant and sets an example of how officials are cracking down on smugglers.
“It’s a huge seizure,” Mangioni said. “One of the largest that we’ve had in quite sometime in South Florida. More importantly, it shows that the pressure we’re putting on the Southwest border is forcing organizations to move to a Maritime environment and when they do that we’ll be ready for them.”
“I think what we are seeing now is a real trend towards maritime smuggling,” said Mangione. “The sort of smuggling that we saw back in the 80s and early 90s.”
The ship, based in Key West, returned to Miami on Wednesday morning to allow workers to offload the more than 3,000 pounds of cocaine.
Mangioni said the seizure was a small boat seizure but was significant to his team, and there will be more and more seizures in the future.
“This was the second one in as many months for this particular Coast Guard cutter,” he said.
Two weeks earlier, the Thetis, intercepted a go-fast boat carrying more than 1,100 pounds of cocaine and also detained five suspected smugglers off the coast of Nicaragua.
Douglas Schofield, The Commander of the “Thetis,” told CBS4’s Peter D’Oench that “It was a great bust in the sense that this was a huge team effort and we used helicopters and a number of aircraft in the area.”
“We are ready to stop all such drug traffic on the high sea,” said Schofield, “not just in the U.S. but all over and we commend all of these agencies that work with us on a day to day basis.”
Captain Peter Brown, who is Chief of Response for the U.S. Coast Guard’s 7th District, told D’Oench the seizures are having an impact on drug traffic.
“Just a couple of weeks ago, the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy announced that cocaine use is down, the price is up, the purity is down and cocaine production in Colombia is down,” said Brown. “So there are all sorts of positive signs that we are having a positive impact on the market.”
Crew members from the “Thetis” said they were proud to play a part in the seizure of the cocaine.
“It feels great to be out here and down south getting the job done and keeping cocaine off the streets,” said Lt. Junior Grade Erin Palmer. A Pennsylvania native, she has been with the Coast Guard for a year and a half. “It is certainly a lot of cocaine,” she said. “I think it will make a little bit of a dent.”
Petty Officer, Robert Mixon, a South Carolina native who’s been with the Coast Guard four years, told D’Oench, “I feel great. I feel really good. I think it’s what everyone joined for, to make a difference.”