CBP, Interagency Partners Make Million Dollar Cocaine Seizures
Jacksonville, Fla. — U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Office of Air and Marine (OAM) P-3 aircraft, together with interagency and international law enforcement partners, successfully intercepted three vessels smuggling illicit narcotics totaling more than 5,300 pounds of cocaine with an estimated value of $48.2 million on December 1 and 3.
The partnerships are part of the Joint Interagency Task Force – South (JIATF-S) and were operating in the Eastern Pacific Ocean off the coast of Panama. JIATF-S is a national drug task force under U.S. Southern Command and facilitates U.S. and partner nation law enforcement interdiction efforts against illicit trafficking in support of national and regional security.
The OAM P-3 aircrew detected a twin-engine 45 foot go-fast vessel off the Panama coast with three persons on board before leaving the area to refuel the aircraft. After refueling, the P-3 crew returned and quickly re-acquired the go-fast vessel, which was heading towards Panama’s western coast. Two partner-nation law enforcement vessels launched to intercept the vessel.
Partner-nation law enforcement credited OAM with disrupting 3,300 pounds of cocaine. The estimated value of this seizure is more than $30 million.
Two days later, U.S. government aircraft detected two fishing vessels operating in open waters off the Panama coast and passed the details to a CBP P-3 aircraft crew patrolling in the region. After locating the fishing vessels, the P-3 crew monitored their activity and vectored a JIATF-S asset to intercept the vessels.
Two teams were dispatched to board the vessels and discovered 93 bricks of cocaine, all under the watchful eye of the P-3 crew who continued its surveillance. Three hundred fifty pounds ($3.98 million) of the nearly 2,000 pounds ($22.7 million value) reported to have originally been onboard the go-fast was seized and/or disrupted.
“These disruptions are the latest examples of our commitment to intercepting criminal activity before it reaches U.S. shores,” said Doug Garner, director of National Air Security Operations Center in Jacksonville. “In the first quarter of this fiscal year, OAM’s P-3 program has more than 20,000 pounds in cocaine disruptions valued at more than $1.5 billion.”
CBP OAM P-3s have been an integral part of the successful counter-narcotic missions operating in coordination with JIATF-S. The P-3s patrol a 42 million square mile area of the Western Caribbean and Eastern Pacific, known as the Source and Transit Zone, in search of drugs that are in transit towards U.S. shores.
The P-3s’ distinctive detection capabilities allow highly-trained crews to identify emerging threats well beyond the land borders of the U.S. By providing surveillance of known air, land, and maritime smuggling routes in an area that is twice the size of the continental U.S., the P-3s detect, monitor and disrupt smuggling activities before they reach shore.
Overall coordination of counter-drug patrols and surveillance in the Eastern Pacific is done by JIATF-S headquartered in Key West, Fla.