It was a night time interception of a fishing vessel in international waters that yielded 4.2 tons of cocaine with an estimated wholesale value of US$125 million, the biggest maritime seizure in the Atlantic since 1999, US Coast Guard officials revealed.
The February 16 operation was revealed Monday when the cocaine bales where offloaded at Coast Guard Sector San Juan, Puerto Rico, two days after four Guyanese men apprehended in the seizure were delivered to federal law enforcement in St. Croix.
The smugglers who were taken off a 70-foot fishing boat face prosecution by the US Attorney’s Office for the Virgin Islands.
According to the US Coast Guard, the San Juan-based 154’x26.6’x8.5’ Sentinel-class fast response cutter Joseph Napier detected the fishing boat, Lady Michelle, north of Paramaribo, Suriname’s capital city, in international waters.
The Coast Guard boarding team detained the four crewmen, and found bales that tested positive for cocaine.
A Trinidad and Tobago SPa (Standard Patrol) class coast guard cutter based out of Staubles Bay, Trinidad, was on a joint patrol with the Napier and provided safety and escort assistance at the scene.
The Napier took the Lady Michelle under tow until relieved by the Vigilant, a 210’x34’x10’6” medium endurance cutter based out of Port Canaveral, Fla. The Vigilant towed the fishing vessel to its port of registry, the island of St. Vincent, and transferred custody to the St. Vincent coast guard.
The operation was the latest result of multi-agency and international law enforcement efforts led by the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) office on St. Croix, and assisted by DEA Barbados office, and the Caribbean Corridor Strike Force and the British National Crime Agency (NCA).
“The excellent coordination between the US Coast Guard, and international law enforcement agencies prevented this major drug shipment from reaching our communities,” said Capt. Robert W. Warren, Coast Guard Sector San Juan commander, in announcing the operation.