Coast Guard Warns of Increased Drug Smuggling in the Pacific

October 27, 2019 Updated: October 27, 2019

After the U.S. Coast Guard recently seized an estimated $92 million worth of cocaine from boats in the Pacific Ocean and transported it to San Diego, the agency warned of an uptick in drug smuggling in the area.

The boats were carrying roughly 6,800 pounds worth of cocaine and were interdicted by the Coast Guard Cutters Alert, Robert Ward, and Seneca off the coast of Mexico, Central America, and South America between the months of July and October.

While the 2019 data has yet to be compiled, the Coast Guard confirmed that since 2013, there has been an upward trend in drug seizures in the Pacific.

“The last two years, 2017 and 2018, were both record setting years. If you look back [from 2013], you’ll see a very distinct trend going up,” Lt. Commander Matthew Kroll told The Epoch Times.

While Kroll said 2019 is not likely not to break records, the numbers are still higher than the Coast Guard has seen in the past five years. The increases have largely been a result of cartels switching their primary smuggling routes away from the Caribbean after the U.S. increased its presence there.

“A lot of energy was put into the Caribbean side over the last 10 to 15 years. After we started upping our presence in that area, the natural shift was to go the other way,” he said.

Cocaine cultivation in Columbia has also seen an increase of 134 percent from 2013 to 2017. In 2017, Columbian farmers in Tapia produced over 400,000 acres of coca, the main ingredient of cocaine.

Columbia has been the world’s largest producer of cocaine and the United States is its largest consumer, with over 40.6 million Americans having admitted to using the drug at least once in their lifetime as of 2017, up from 38.8 million in 2016, according to the latest statistics from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Cocaine related deaths were up 52.4 percent in 2016, according to the CDC’s latest study.

Kroll said smugglers use a multitude of vessels to smuggle narcotics into the United States, from small fishing vessels and container ships to semi-submersible submarines, as seen in video footage released in July, in which a Coast Guard crewman leapt onto a surfaced vessel and banged on the hood before detaining the smugglers.

“They are using almost any method they can to get these drugs into the United States,” said Kroll.

The cocaine from the recent seizures was found to be in its purest form. Kroll explained that it’s important to seize the drug in this form, because once it hits the street, more ingredients are added and it’s sold in small doses, making the drug more dangerous and harder to track down.

Typically, cartels smuggle cocaine out of the western part of Columbia or Ecuador into the Pacific, and they often travel around the Galapagos Islands to avoid U.S.-led coastal patrols in Central America before turning north towards the U.S. coast, especially California. The cartels’ operating area in the Pacific covers an area as large as the continental United States, which poses a challenge for the Coast Guard’s interception efforts.

While Lt. Commander Kroll was unable to divulge the nationalities of the smugglers or who they were working for, since the Department of Justice handles those matters, he did specify that drug cartels will use anyone they can to carry out their smuggling activities.

In cases where the smugglers are apprehended, they’re typically not hostile, and they often come willingly. This particular instance was no different than the norm.

“A lot of times these are people who are put in a hard situation by cartels and forced into it. Once they realize they’ve been interdicted and we’re right on top of them, there’s really no place to go,” said Kroll.

Despite this, Coast Guard crews go through intense combat training to prepare for any potential danger.

In September, Coast Guard Cutter Seneca offloaded more than 12,000 pounds off the coast of Miami, while in August, Cutter Midgett discovered two different smuggling vessels within the same week carrying a total of 6,700 pounds worth of cocaine.

The Alert is now in its 50th year of service and the Coast Guard has said that it will continue to use the ship for the foreseeable future.