SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO—A U.S Customs and Border Protection (CBP) P-3 aircraft assisted in a joint law enforcement interdiction, Friday, of 1,500 pounds (680.4 kilos) of cocaine on board a go-fast vessel attempting to reach the southern coast of the island. Three men were arrested.
The drug shipment is estimated to have a wholesale value of more than $24 million.
The interdiction was a result of an international, multi-agency law enforcement effort in support of Operation Unified Resolve, Operation Caribbean Guard and the Caribbean Corridor Strike Force (CCSF).
A CBP P-3 fixed-wing marine surveillance aircraft supporting Joint Interagency Task Force - South detected a suspicious 30-foot go-fast vessel Friday afternoon alerting U.S. Coast Guard. The vessel was spotted carrying three suspected smugglers, who were using a tarp to conceal their position approximately 160 nautical miles south of Ponce, Puerto Rico.
U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Sapelo was deployed to interdict the suspect vessel, while the Royal Navy's HMS Lancaster frigate, on patrol in the Caribbean Sea, also responded upon being alerted.
The CBP aircraft maintained surveillance of the suspect vessel as the Lancaster arrived on scene. Once on scene, the Lancaster launched their Lynx helicopter and high-speed pursuit boat to interdict the go-fast. Upon noticing the presence of law enforcement authorities, the suspected smugglers jettisoned a package overboard that was recovered by the Lancaster's boat crew. The suspected smugglers stopped upon request.
Inside the boat 22 bales of field tested cocaine were found along with three men. Johnny Sarmiento-Palacios, 46, a citizen of Venezuela; Johnny Feliz Terrero, 49, a citizen of the Dominican Republic; and Johwanny Aybar Ulloa, 32, a citizen of the Dominican Republic, were on board the vessel and arrested.
USCG transferred the detainees and the cocaine to CBP officers, at the Ponce Port Sunday. Custody was transferred to Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) special agents who under the Caribbean Corridor Strike Force, are leading the criminal investigation.
Under Operation Caribbean Guard efforts are coordinated between DHS components and Territorial law enforcement partners, who are working diligently to deter, detect and disrupt illicit maritime trafficking to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
CCSF is an initiative of the U.S. Attorney's Office created to disrupt and dismantle major drug trafficking organizations operating in the Caribbean. CCSF is part of the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) and Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) that investigates South American-based drug trafficking organizations responsible for the movement of multi-kilogram quantities of narcotics using the Caribbean as a transshipment point for further distribution to the United States. The initiative is composed of HSI, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico, Drug Enforcement Administration, FBI, the Coast Guard, CBP and PRPD's Joint Forces for Rapid Action.