View Full Version : Maritime Drug Busts
March 21st, 2007, 05:00 PM
Panamanian police seize 19 tons of cocaine in one of biggest maritime busts on record
19 March 2007
PANAMA CITY, Panama (AP) - Panamanian police seized a boat off the nation's Pacific coast carrying 19.4 metric tons of cocaine in one of the biggest maritime cocaine busts anywhere on record, officials said Monday.
National police working with agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency seized the boat on Sunday near the island of Coiba, said a police official who asked his name not be used because he was not authorized to speak on the record.
Police arrested 12 men on the boat, including Mexicans and Panamanians, and another two suspects in Panama City in connection with the drugs, the official said.
The boat, which was sailing under a Panamanian flag, was being transported to Panama City on Monday, he said.
Drug cartels often smuggle Colombian cocaine along Panama's Pacific coast en route to the United States.
In 2004, the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Navy seized 28 tons of cocaine from two fishing boats off the coast of the Galapagos Islands in what U.S. State Department officials then called their largest seizures ever during a one-week stretch.
In 2005, police in southwest Colombia seized 15 tons of cocaine from a jungle stronghold, in what national authorities called the largest haul ever on their soil.
Ecuadorean authorities said Monday they had fished 200 kilograms (440 pounds) from the Pacific after the crew of a boat carrying the cargo set the vessel ablaze after being intercepted by the U.S. Coast Guard.
Milton Lalama, director general of Ecuador's Merchant Marines, said crew members burned the boat "to make the evidence disappear" after it was intercepted last month. It was unclear how much cocaine was on the boat before it was burned.
The boat's crew of six Colombians and eight Ecuadoreans were transferred Monday to the Ecuadorean port city of Guayaquil, where the Colombians are in U.S. custody, Ecuador's counter-drug prosecutor said in Guayaquil.
May 7th, 2007, 12:09 PM
U.S. Coast Guard shows off 20 tons of cocaine seized in record bust
23 April 2007
ALAMEDA, California (AP) - The U.S. Coast Guard on Monday began unloading more than 40,000 pounds (18,000 kilograms) of cocaine seized from three ships off the Central American coast, including one bust called the largest in U.S. maritime history.
The Coast Guard boarded a 330-foot (100-meter) ship heading north off the Pacific coast of Panama last month and discovered about 38,000 pounds (17,000 kilograms) of cocaine in two shipping containers, officials said.
The bust was the largest single sea-based seizure of cocaine by a U.S. agency, Coast Guard Petty Officer Brian Leshak said.
In another bust off Panama's coast last month, a Coast Guard cutter chased down a cigarette-style speedboat carrying about 2,000 pounds (900 kilograms) of cocaine, officials said.
The Coast Guard in February intercepted an Ecuadorian-flagged fishing vessel allegedly loading cocaine into speedboats off Mexico's coast.
The fishing vessel's crew set fire to their ship to destroy the evidence and tried to flee in the speedboats, but were caught, according to the Coast Guard. About 900 pounds (400 kilograms) of cocaine were seized.
The Coast Guard detained a total of 32 crew members in the three busts.
The cocaine, with an estimated street value of $500 million (euro370 million), will be turned over the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, which will take the drugs to Miami to be destroyed, Leshak said.
July 5th, 2007, 07:45 AM
Ireland's navy, coast guard search Cork shoreline in record cocaine find
3 July 2007
DUBLIN, Ireland (AP) - Irish navy and coast guard vessels combed the County Cork coast Tuesday in search of a record haul of cocaine that has been washing up in bales.
Police made the discovery accidentally when one of the suspected smugglers swam ashore Monday and reported that a colleague could be drowning after their rubber dingy capsized in heavy seas. That triggered a full search-and-rescue operation -- which found one survivor and a flotilla of floating cocaine bundles.
Police Superintendent Tony Quilter said the smugglers appeared to have abandoned three sports utility vehicles that would have been used to carry away the cocaine, estimated to exceed 1.5 tons and euro105 million (US$145 million). Customs officials said its street value, after being cut with sugar, would have been roughly triple that.
And searchers kept finding more bales of the drug Tuesday, in addition to two rubber dingies. Quilter said police had arrested the man who raised the alarm and were expected to arrest the rescued man once he is released from Bantry General Hospital in west Cork. They were searching for two others who were seen running away from the scene.
Police said the arrested man and his hospitalized accomplice were both suspected English drugs smugglers based in southern Spain and Ireland. The cocaine was suspected of being smuggled from South America via West Africa and bound for sale in both Britain and Ireland.
Cocaine is the fastest-growing illegal narcotic in Ireland, where a long-booming economy is funding a wave of recreational drug use.
Customs officials and police also concede that Ireland is considered an ideal European landing point for drugs from Africa and South America, because Ireland has the biggest territorial waters to police in Europe and one of the smallest navies. The rugged coastline of Cork, Ireland's southernmost point, has been a favored spot for drug smugglers for decades.
Ireland's naval service said Tuesday its officers were looking through records of which ships had passed along the County Cork coast in recent days, in the hope of pinpointing the "mother ship" that had dispensed the two cocaine-loaded dingies.
The major naval vessel deployed in the search, the Orla, was also keeping an eye on yachts and sailboats passing through the area -- and warning their operators by radio not to collect any cocaine bales from the sea.
Ireland's previous record drug seizure, in 1998, involved 300 kilograms (660 pounds) of cocaine valued at euro61 million. It was found on board a catamaran docked in the well-heeled Cork port of Kinsale.
The total value of all drugs seized nationwide in 2005 and 2006 came to about euro100 million (US$135 million) in both of those years, about half of that representing finds of marijuana.
February 8th, 2008, 04:58 AM
French navy seizes major cocaine haul off African coast
PARIS, Feb 7, 2008 (AFP) - A French navy vessel seized three tonnes of cocaine from a Panamanian-registered boat off the west African coast, officials involved in the operation said Thursday.
It is the second largest drugs haul ever seized by the French.
French sailors intervened as part of an international operation involving the Greek coastguard, the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), the British authorities and the European police agency Europol.
The French boarded the Junior in international waters, 260 kilometres (160 miles) west of the port of Conakry in Guinea, as some members of the crew were getting ready to dump the container containing the drugs overboard.
It was their second such success in the region this year. On January 29, the French navy intercepted a Liberian fishing boat, the Blue Atlantic, 500 kilometres off the Liberian coast, and seized 2.5 tonnes of cocaine.
Thursday's haul came after a tip off from the Greek coastguard and following DEA surveillance of the Junior over several months.
The Greek coastguard said they thought the boat, which had loaded its cargo in Greece, had originally come from Brazil and was bound for Algeria. It was carrying 107 cases, each containing 30 kilos (0.03 tonnes) of cocaine.
The crew consisted of a Greek captain and his second-in-command and seven crew members of African origin, they said.
The Greek merchant marine ministry said one of the crew members had been previously arrested as a crew member on the tanker Archangel, seized by the Spanish authorities in 1995 with 2.7 tonnes of cocaine.
French investigators are waiting to hear from Panama to see if it will waive its legal interest in the boat registered under its flag.
If Panama does waive its rights, the French will be able to take the vessel to a French port and continue their investigation. If it does not, then the vessel will have to be taken back to Greece where it was loaded.
The largest cocaine seizure by the French authorities was 4.3 tonnes on November 16, 2006, off the coast of Antilles in the French Caribbean, in a Panamanian cargo ship bound for Spain.
July 3rd, 2008, 05:04 AM
Prince William's ship makes major cocaine bust
2 July 2008
LONDON (AP) - The British Royal Navy ship on which Prince William is serving made a major cocaine bust in the north Atlantic, Britain's defense ministry said Wednesday.
The prince helped his crew mates on HMS Iron Duke intercept a speedboat northeast of Barbados on Saturday. He was aboard a helicopter attached to the frigate that spotted a speedboat and grew suspicious that such a small vessel should be so far from land, the ministry said.
The helicopter crew informed the ship's commanding officer, and the ship gave chase.
U.S. Coast Guard officials working on the frigate boarded the speedboat and found 45 bales of cocaine weighing 1,900 pounds, the ministry said.
"He was in the helicopter on Saturday morning when the search was conducted," Commanding Officer Mark Newland told Sky News. "He was able to provide surveillance to the team. He's a professional navy officer, he understands the context we're operating in so he's able to help in every way."
The Ministry of Defense said the drugs had an estimated street value of $80 million. Five men were detained and the speedboat later sank.
The ministry said William, known in the navy as Sub-Lieutenant Wales, is spending five weeks at sea as part of a plan to have him experience all the branches of the British armed forces. He is already a junior officer in the army and has earned his wings in the Royal Air Force.
Newland said he had been ordered to involve the prince in all operations.
The Iron Duke began hurricane relief and counter-narcotics duties in the Atlantic last week and is due to remain in the area until October.
May 17th, 2009, 01:42 PM
US intercepts "narco sub": Colombian officials
16 May 2009
Agence France Presse
A US warship intercepted a submersible believed to be linked to the drug trade off Colombia's Pacific coastline, Colombian officials said Saturday.
The USS Simpson, a guided missile frigate, immobilized the craft and detained four men aboard, the Colombian Navy said in a statement.
The move was authorized as part of an agreement interdicting sea crafts transporting drugs signed between Bogota and Washington.
The four Colombians aboard the "narco sub" opened the valves when they saw the Simpson and sank their vessel, the statement read, noting that such crafts can transport up to 12 tonnes of cocaine.
The Colombian Navy has intercepted, sometimes with help from other countries, 39 submersibles, including six in 2009, thwarting "the transportation of more than 30 tonnes of cocaine abroad."
Security officials report an increase in the use of locally-built submersibles which can be at sea for up to 14 days and have a range of up to 3,200 kilometers (2,000 miles).
The vessels, often made of fiberglass, glide under the ocean surface with only the cockpit and the exhaust tubes extending above the water and are difficult to detect with radar or sonar.
July 10th, 2009, 06:37 PM
Mexican navy finds cocaine in frozen sharks
17 June 2009
Agence France Presse
The Mexican Navy discovered a container ship full of frozen sharks packed with more than a tonne of cocaine, officials and reports said.
An X-ray test during a routine check on the ship's containers revealed the drugs stuffed inside some 30 frozen sharks, La Reforma newspaper reported Wednesday.
The shipment was discovered off the eastern state of Yucatan on board the 12-meter (39-foot), Marshall Islands-flagged Dover Strait, which had departed from Houston, Texas, the navy said late Tuesday.
It was unclear where the ship had been heading.
"At this time, proceedings are underway to determine the total weight of the shipment, and to examine other containers transported aboard the same ship," the navy added in a statement.
Mexican soldiers have previously found drugs hidden inside shoes, picture frames and people.
President Felipe Calderon has deployed more than 36,000 troops and police in a crackdown on the country's powerful and well-armed drug smuggling cartels.
More than 10,000 people have died in Mexico in suspected drug violence since Calderon launched the crackdown two and a half years ago.
July 18th, 2009, 08:05 AM
Costa Rica to launch satellite system against drug trafficking
SAN JOSE, July 6 (Xinhua) -- The Costa Rican government on Monday announced it will launch a satellite tracking system to aid the anti-drug fight on the seas.
The system, which will record vessels' route, position and movements at real time, will allow the authorities to provide aid in case of emergencies, and reinforce the police actions to seize drugs, executive president of the Costa Rican Institute of Fishing and Aquaculture Luis Dobles told Xinhua.
The system will mainly guard tuna fishing ships and foreign-flag vessels with a length of more than 18 meters in its first phase, and will also cover smaller ships in the future, the official said.
The system will be used at the area of the 12 miles of the territorial sea and 188 miles of jurisdictional waters which include the exclusive economic zone of the country.
The first stage of the project will cost 300,000 - 400,000 U.S. dollars provided by the government, Dobles said.
August 19th, 2009, 05:36 PM
Anti-drug efforts beefed up along US-Canada border
25 July 2009
PLATTSBURGH, New York (AP) - The world's longest undefended border. It's a catchy yet increasingly imprecise term for the U.S.-Canada frontier, as authorities on both sides ratchet up efforts to curb bustling traffic in illegal drugs and guns.
The U.S. Border Patrol has tripled the number of agents along the 5,500-mile (8,851-kilometer) border in recent years, with hundreds more soon to be deployed. Unmanned U.S. surveillance aircraft are being tested for use over the frontier, and video surveillance towers are going up around Buffalo and Detroit. Multi-agency, binational law enforcement teams operate in 15 regions from coast to coast.
The U.S.-Mexico border draws far more attention, and more American resources, as Mexican drug cartels fuel killings and corruption with massive trafficking operations. Thousands of Mexican troops battle the cartels in a conflict that has killed more than 11,000 people since late 2006.
By comparison, the scale of drug violence and trafficking in Canada is minuscule. Yet the northern border, mostly out of the spotlight, presents its own challenges -- hard to monitor due to its length and geography, used by a diverse array of traffickers ranging from outlaw motorcycle gangs to Asian-run drug rings.
"It's a long border, mostly very remote, very wooded, very sparsely populated," said James Burns, the Drug Enforcement Administration special agent in charge of upstate New York. "It's easy to go from one side to the other without detection."
Canada supplies large quantities of marijuana to American users, including hundreds of thousands of pounds (kilograms) a year of lucrative, high-potency "B.C. Bud" from British Columbia. Canada also has developed rapidly into a leading supplier of ecstasy, often laced with highly addictive methamphetamine, both for U.S. and overseas markets, as crime gangs operate factory-style superlabs.
The contraband arrives by helicopter, boat and float plane, in cattle trucks, hikers' backpacks, and by snowmobile. One favored smuggling passageway is the St. Regis/Akwesasne Mohawk Indian reservation straddling the St. Lawrence River along the New York-Canada border -- tribal sovereignty limits access by Canadian and U.S. investigators.
Just this month, federal and state authorities in Plattsburgh, on the western shore of Lake Champlain, announced the dismantling of an alleged billion-dollar marijuana smuggling ring that used the Mohawk land as a transit route into the United States.
Operation Iron Curtain resulted in charges against more than 45 people from Quebec to Florida. Over the past four years, the ring allegedly smuggled about $250 million worth of high-grade, hydroponic marijuana into the U.S. annually.
"It's easy to forget in these idyllic surroundings and friendly communities and with our close relationship with our Canadian neighbors that there are people so interested in lining their own pockets that they don't care what harm they cause others," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Grant Jaquith.
Even excluding the remote 1,500-mile (2,414-kilometer) border with Alaska, the U.S.-Canada frontier covers 4,000 miles (6,437 kilometers) from the Atlantic to the Pacific -- twice as long as the U.S.-Mexico border.
Yet as of last month, the Border Patrol had 16,900 agents deployed along the Mexican border and 1,550 along the Canadian border. That northern contingent is up from less than 500 agents in 2002, and will expand to more than 2,200 over the next year.
At last count, marijuana from Canada accounted for less than 3 percent of the pot seized near U.S. borders, with the bulk coming from Mexico. But the DEA fears more will be coming from the north as marijuana-growing operations expand in eastern Canada.
Other trends also cause alarm. Seizures of ecstasy being smuggled from Canada to the U.S. quintupled between 2004 and 2006, from 1.1 million dosage units to 5.2 million. Meanwhile, Canadian authorities reported that seizures of cocaine coming northward over the border had tripled.
The boom in Canadian ecstasy smuggling followed a cutback of the drug's production in Western Europe, and is linked to the ability of crime groups to bring precursor chemicals from Asia into Canada for processing at gang-run labs. The United Nations' drug czar, Antonio Maria Costa, last month urged Canada to emulate the U.S. and Mexico in cracking down on these precursors, such as over-the-counter cold medicine.
Inspector Doug Ellerker, an assistant director of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police's Drug Branch, said the superlabs are a prime target of RCMP investigators.
"Because of the money to be made, it's a real issue for us to deal with," he said. "We're seeing a turn toward the larger economic-based labs that can produce larger quantities."
Canada's gangs are a multiethnic mosaic -- Quebec biker gangs led by French-Canadians; Chinese- and Vietnamese-led gangs in several major cities. One particular problem, Canadian police say, is extensive infiltration of the trucking industry by criminals whose families emigrated from India.
The National Drug Intelligence Center, in its 2009 report, estimates that Canada-based drug gangs were generating between $33 billion and $56 billion annually from overall drug sales in the United States, with much of the cash smuggled through the Mohawk territory.
"Who knows what this money is funding," Burns said. "We've been fortunate not to have the kind of violence associated with the Southwest border -- knock on wood -- but the potential is certainly there."
In British Columbia, drug-fueled violence already is a serious problem -- blamed for dozens of killings in the past two years, as gangs such as the Red Scorpions and the United Nations battle to profit from two-way trafficking over the border. The main trade pattern: The province's hydroponic marijuana is traded at the border for cocaine, guns and cash.
The cocaine originates mainly in Colombia, comes north into Mexico, then across the U.S., often under the supervision of Mexican traffickers. The marijuana -- renowned for its potency -- fetches a premium price, often $4,000 a pound (a half kilogram) wholesale by the time it reaches Los Angeles, Chicago or New York.
The production of export marijuana and its economic spinoffs have made it British Columbia's third largest industry behind tourism and logging, said criminologist Rob Gordon of Simon Fraser University. "It's a major component of our gross provincial product."
People familiar with British Columbia's marijuana trade have estimated that anywhere from 30,000 to more than 80,000 pounds (36,288 kilograms) of pot per month is smuggled into the United States, mostly by truck and aircraft.
Smugglers have resorted to imaginative methods. In 2005, police uncovered a 360-foot (110-meter) tunnel running from a home in Washington State to a boarded-up Quonset hut in a Vancouver suburb on the Canadian side.
In April, a British Columbia man pleaded guilty in federal court in Seattle to trying to smuggle more than 1,700 pounds (771 kilograms) of marijuana into the U.S. in the floor of a trailer truck loaded with two-dozen head of cattle. It was not the most pleasant of busts.
"Officers scraped off the natural byproduct of cows and endured the associated odors to unbolt false panels which concealed hundreds of plastic bags of marijuana," according to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection press release.
The smuggling and violence in British Columbia would be alarming at any time, but is especially troubling as the province prepares to host the Winter Olympics next February. Border crossings en route to and from Vancouver will be extra busy, and authorities from both countries want to avoid massive backups while preventing smugglers from capitalizing.
"Security and facilitation go hand in hand," said Alan Bersin, the Obama administration's border czar. He hopes individuals and companies making frequent border crossings will participate in new programs which vet them so they can clear border posts rapidly.
If there's any recurring source of binational discord over drug trafficking, it's probably the issue of Canada's judicial system -- which often doles out lighter sentences to drug traffickers than they would receive in the United States.
Canada's Parliament is moving to toughen some of those sentences. For now, though, officials say Canadian officers participating in joint arrests at the border sometimes agree to place the suspects in U.S. custody in the hope they'll receive longer prison terms.
"We understand that laws in the U.S. and Canada are not comparable -- we can't let that frustrate us," said Sgt. Michael Harvey of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police detachment in Cornwall, Ontario, near the border-straddling Mohawk reserve.
Overall, cross-border teamwork on drug investigations is rated as excellent -- despite occasional logistical challenges such as incompatible radio networks.
"Our cooperation with Canada sets the gold standard for cross-border relations that we seek to emulate with Mexico," Bersin said.
Bersin, whose official title is special representative for border affairs, said the long northern border -- with extensive stretches of wilderness -- requires different policing strategies than the Mexican border.
"Technology necessarily will play a more important role," he said. "You'll want more extensive use of surveillance systems, coupled with communications channels. And partnerships become a very important part of the strategy -- federal, state, local and cross-border."
Last month, the DEA and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement reached an agreement that will enable ICE to assign more of its agents to drug investigations along both borders. "I have no intention of focusing simply on the southern border," said ICE's director, John Morton.
For the Border Patrol, recent initiatives have brought not only hundreds more agents to its northern front, but also new offices and transport, ranging from aircraft and boats to snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles.
"We patrol mountains, forests, fields -- we need those ATVs," said Mark Henry of the Border Patrol's Swanton Sector, which monitors a 295-mile (474.7-kilometer) stretch of the border from Alexandria, New York, across the tops of Vermont and New Hampshire.
The traffickers "are always probing for a weak point, always trying to get through the woods, down the back roads," Henry said. "They use radios, night vision goggles -- they've gotten more sophisticated."
Associated Press writers Jeremy Hainsworth in Vancouver and Gene Johnson in Seattle contributed to this report.
January 21st, 2010, 03:55 PM
Dutch seize tonne of cocaine on Jamaican whisky ship
AMSTERDAM, Jan 5 (Reuters) - Dutch authorities have seized more than a tonne of cocaine hidden among containers of whisky on a cargo shipment from Jamaica, their largest seizure ever from the island nation.
The 1,100 kilos of the drug, with a street value of more than 30 million euros, has already been destroyed. "We've had bigger seizures but not from Jamaica," a spokeswoman for the public prosecutor said.
A special team comprised of seaport police, customs, the financial crimes investigation service and the public prosecutor's office found the container last week in Rotterdam, Europe's biggest port, they said in a statement on Tuesday.
The container was targeted for an in-depth search "based on a risk analysis of customs," they said, and was immediately identified as suspicious by a drug dog.
Police arrested five men on Monday at the warehouse in Amsterdam where the container was delivered.
The U.S. Justice Department has called Jamaica an "increasingly significant transshipment point" for cocaine from South America, mostly to the United States but also to Europe. The island nation is on a U.S. list of 20 countries singled out as being major production or distribution centres for drugs.
The Netherlands remains one of the primary entry points for cocaine into Europe. British drugs research group DrugScope has said that the Netherlands and Spain, together, account for nearly two-thirds of all European seizures of cocaine.
January 28th, 2011, 10:40 AM
More drugs found on cruise ship in Baltimore
12 January 2011
BALTIMORE (AP) - Drug-sniffing dogs found nearly $100,000 worth of cocaine and heroin aboard a Royal Caribbean cruise ship in a federal investigation of an employee smuggling ring, authorities said Tuesday.
The search on Saturday uncovered 1 1/2 pounds of heroin and nearly a pound of cocaine aboard the ship Enchantment of the Seas. The ship was docked in Baltimore after a 12-day cruise to the Caribbean, and the drugs were found in a compartment that's only accessible to employees, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol said.
Last month, three employees of the same ship were charged with conspiracy to import drugs after a previous journey to the Caribbean. According to court documents, one of them was caught onshore with similar amounts of cocaine and heroin and told authorities he planned to sell the drugs for $4,000 in the parking lot of a Walmart near Baltimore's cruise terminal.
Law enforcement officials would not say whether the new drug seizure is linked to that case, and no further arrests have been made.
Cynthia Martinez, a Royal Caribbean spokeswoman, initially told The Associated Press that the seizure was related to the previous arrests, but she later said she might have received incorrect information.
"Royal Caribbean continues to cooperate fully with authorities during their investigation of crew members onboard Enchantment of the Seas suspected of smuggling drugs," the company said in a statement. "We continue to provide any assistance necessary to prosecute these individuals to the fullest extent of the law."
A spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the agency is following up on leads related to the seizure but declined to comment further. The U.S. Attorney's Office in Baltimore declined to comment because the investigation is ongoing.
The employees were arrested after the ship's security officer alerted ICE that they might be involved in smuggling, according to court documents. Officers searched Gavin Excell, 35, and found drugs hidden in his pants and shoes, the documents show.
Excell told authorities that he and two other employees of the ship's kitchen -- John Swart Garth and Kishurn Neptune, both 27 -- picked up the drugs from a Jamaican man in the Dominican Republic.
Loxly Johnson, 48, and Shenika Graves, 34, are accused of plotting to buy the drugs from the ship employees, the documents show. All five face the same charge of conspiracy to import heroin and cocaine.
Excell, Graves and Johnson have pleaded not guilty, and arraignments for Swart Garth and Neptune are scheduled for Friday.
Excell's attorney, Christopher Purpura, said Tuesday that his client did not alert authorities to the additional drugs, but he noted that Excell was cooperative after his arrest, which led to the arrests of Johnson and Graves. Court records did not indicate whether the other two employees had hired attorneys.
Enchantment of the Seas sails to Bermuda, New England and Canada and to various destinations in the Caribbean. It's nearly 1,000 feet long and can hold up to 2,730 passengers, and features bungee trampolines and suspension bridges across the pool deck.