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AMO P-3 Crew Detects and Disrupts 2 Drug-Laden Vessels with Over a Ton of Cocaine

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Disruption ends with cocaine jettisoned in vessel’s wake

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Air and Marine Operations (AMO) efforts in the Eastern Pacific Ocean led to the arrest of three smugglers, the seizure of one vessel, and the disruption of more than 2,700 pounds of cocaine.  

The crews aboard a P-3 Airborne Early Warning detection and monitoring aircraft and a P-3 Long Range Tracker worked in concert to detect two smuggling vessels southwest of El Salvador while conducting counter-narcotics operations with Joint Interagency Task Force (JIATF) South.

The P-3 crews detected the first smuggling vessel on radar, then observed three persons on board and a large black tarp covering cargo. A short while later, the black tarp and cargo were no longer visible on the fleeing vessel, and the P-3 crew identified a debris field in the vessel’s wake, later determined to be an estimated 1,430 pounds of cocaine. 

The P-3 crews coordinated with JIATF South to intercept the smuggling vessels with a nearby U.S. Coast Guard cutter. While one aircraft assisted with that interdiction, another discovered a second drug smuggling vessel nearby.  By using its small boat, the cutter was able to intercept both vessels.  Onboard the second vessel, the USCG discovered 1,300 pounds of cocaine and three Ecuadorian nationals.

“It takes the combined efforts of people, aircraft, vessels, and agency partnerships to yield results like this,” said Director, Air Operations, Bob Blanchard from the National Air Security Operations Center-Jacksonville. “Our across-the-border cooperation with foreign government officials enables us to patrol these hot zones for smuggling activity, yielding substantial seizures of narcotics that would eventually reach the United States if not interdicted.”

Operation Martillo is one component in the United States’ whole-of-government approach to countering the use of the Central American littorals as transshipment routes for illicit trafficking. Operation Martillo is an international operation focused on sharing information and bringing together air, land, and maritime assets from the U.S. Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, and Western Hemisphere and European partner nation agencies. U.S. military participation is led by Joint Interagency Task Force South, a component of U.S. Southern Command. 

AMO P-3 crews are an integral part of the successful counter-narcotic missions operating in coordination with JIATF South. AMO crews patrol within a 42-million-square-mile area which includes more than 41 nations and the Pacific Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean Sea, and seaboard approaches to the United States.

In Fiscal Year 2015, AMO aircrews contributed to 198 seizures, disruptions, or interdiction events in the transit zone, resulting in the interdiction of 213,000 pounds of cocaine.

Air and Marine Operations is a federal law enforcement organization dedicated to serving and protecting the American people through advanced aeronautical and maritime capabilities.


Last Modified: February 3, 2021