Thursday, August 13, 2015

US Coast Guard Record Drug Seizures Demonstrate Smuggling Strategy is Working

New Programme in the Constant Battle Against Organised Crime
Shipping News Feature

US – Our photo shows the Coast Guard cutter Stratton with, inset, some of her crew after docking at San Diego, showing off the largest total drug seizure in Coast Guard history. The vessel has just returned from another four month deployment and this time offloaded around 32 tonnes of cocaine seized from traffickers caught at sea during her latest voyage, scouring the waters off the Mexican Pacific coast and Central and Southern America.

The ship apprehended an astonishing total of 30 vessels during the trip, these included various sizes of skiffs plus two self-propelled submarines! The success of the Stratton means that the authorities have seized more narcotics in the past 10 months than they managed in any of the past seven years individually. With 215 suspects arrested so far, and a wholesale value estimated by some of $1.8 billion, this year’s mission is proving the success of the Coast Guard’s Western Hemisphere Strategy, the programme designed to confront significant challenges to maritime safety, efficiency, and security in the Western Hemisphere.

Despite the high total, the amount seized is only a proportion of what might have been, smugglers often throw weighted bundles of drugs overboard when the Coast Guard is sighted, much in the favoured manner of the Somali pirates and their weapons. Also, although impossible to know exactly, most authorities believe the total this year is only a fraction of all the drugs en route to the US. Commandant of the Coast Guard, Adm. Paul Zukunft commented:

“There is still work to be done. We can only act on 30% of known drug shipments in the Eastern Pacific and Caribbean. We must increase already hard earned momentum to curb the rising tide of crime, violence and instability in our hemisphere. This is about more than just trying to keep drugs off US streets. The cultivation, trafficking and distribution of narcotics fuels violence and instability throughout the Western Hemisphere, leaving a path of destruction directly to the door step of the US We must continue to make progress in our effort to combat transnational organized crime networks to ensure safety and security in our hemisphere.”

During at-sea interdictions in international waters, a suspect vessel is initially located and tracked by allied military or law enforcement aircraft or vessels. The actual interdictions, including the boarding, search, seizures and arrests, are led and conducted by US Coast Guardsmen. The Coast Guard’s Western Hemisphere Strategy has a wider brief than just drugs however. The three priorities identified for the programme are to combat organised crime and terrorist networks, secure the country’s borders and safeguard commerce in all its forms.

Transnational organised crime groups are vying for control of illicit trafficking routes and power in numerous Latin American countries, resulting in increased violence and instability. This has led to record high homicide rates in Central and South America, as well as the Caribbean; 8 of the 10 countries with the highest homicide rates in the world are in this region. More than half of the unaccompanied children that crossed the US southern border last year suffered or faced harm from organised crime groups, qualifying for international protection.