Coast Guard offloads nearly 40,000 pounds of seized cocaine

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) — The U.S. Coast Guard offloaded Thursday more than 39,000 pounds of cocaine seized from seafaring traffickers during a record fiscal year in which the agency intercepted about $5.6 billion worth of cocaine.

Coast Guard officials will hold a briefing at 10 a.m. aboard the Alameda-based cutter Waesche, now docked at Naval Base San Diego, to detail the seizure of more than 416,000 pounds of cocaine off the coast of Central and South America over the course of the fiscal year that ended on Sept. 30.

About 5,600 pounds of the record cocaine haul was taken off a self- propelled semi-submersible vessel on Sept. 6. That type of vessel is constructed specifically for illicit trafficking because its low profile makes it hard for authorities to detect, officials said.

The five smugglers aboard the semi-submersible vessel attempted to sink it as authorities closed in, but Waesche crewmembers boarded the ship and stopped it from becoming completely submerged.

"Our Coast Guardsmen face significant risks posed by dangerous criminal organizations," said Capt. James Passarelli, the Waesche’s commanding officer. "Our crew preserved valuable evidence and kept millions of dollars of illicit narcotics off America’s streets."

The Coast Guard apprehended 585 suspected drug smugglers during the last fiscal year, which is an agency record.

Cartels, gangs and other criminal groups fuel the nation’s opiate epidemic, spread violence throughout Central and South America and have a presence in nearly every major U.S. city, Coast Guard officials say.

"With every interdiction, we learn more about transnational organized crime networks that generate profit and proliferate power from a laundry list of illicit activities,” said the Coast Guard Pacific Area commander, Vice Adm. Fred Midgette. "Coast Guard men and women not only keep drugs off U.S. streets, but they combat the influence of these criminal networks that spread violence and instability throughout the Western Hemisphere.”

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