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US Coast Guard offloads $38.5 million in cocaine in San Juan, Puerto Rico, following disruption of smuggling go-fast in the Caribbean Sea

The crew of the Coast Guard Heriberto Hernandez (WPC-1114) offloaded approximately 1,375 kilograms of cocaine at Sector San Juan Wednesday, following the disruption of a drug smuggling go-fast in the Caribbean Sea.

The seized drug shipment is estimated to have a wholesale value of more than $38.5 million.

The interdiction was the result of multi-agency efforts in support of U.S. Southern Command’s enhanced counter-narcotics operations in the Western Hemisphere, and during Operation CASTNET II, in coordination with Joint Task Force East (JTF-E).

“I’m extremely proud of my crew as well as the performance and reliability of the Coast Guard fast response cutter,” said Lt. Russo, cutter Heriberto Hernandez commanding officer.  “The crew’s proficiency in using all of the cutter’s systems and capabilities throughout our patrol, gave us the ability to effectively operate deep inside the Caribbean Sea which led to this successful outcome and prevented over a ton of cocaine from ever reaching the streets.”

The disruption and seizure occurred during a patrol the afternoon of July 16, 2020, when the crew of the cutter Heriberto Hernandez came upon a suspect go-fast vessel. 

As the cutter Heriberto Hernandez closed-in to interdict the go-fast, the smugglers detected the cutter’s presence and began to jettison multiple bales of suspected contraband while fleeing the area at high speed.  The crew of the Heriberto Hernandez conducted a thorough sweep of the area where the jettison occurred, and they were able to recover 55 bales of suspected contraband. The recovered bales tested positive for cocaine.

The cutter Heriberto Hernandez transported the seized contraband to Sector San Juan, where it was received by awaiting federal law enforcement agents in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Cutter Heriberto Hernandez is a 154-foot fast response cutter homeported in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

The Joint Task Forces East (JTF-E) is one of three Joint Task Forces established under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Southern Border and Approaches Campaign Plan (SBACP) to address the threats posed by Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs) to the safety and security of the United States. Operation CASTNET coordinated interagency operations within Puerto Rico with the intent to disrupt and degrade vulnerabilities and increase the overall security of the island.

On April 1, U.S. Southern Command began enhanced counter-narcotics operations in the Western Hemisphere to disrupt the flow of drugs in support of Presidential National Security Objectives. Numerous U.S. agencies from the Departments of Defense, Justice and Homeland Security cooperated in the effort to combat transnational organized crime. The Coast Guard, Navy, Customs and Border Protection, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Drug Enforcement Administration, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, along with allied and international partner agencies, play a role in counter-drug operations.

The fight against drug cartels in the Caribbean Sea requires unity of effort in all phases from detection, monitoring and interdictions, to criminal prosecutions by international partners and U.S. Attorneys Offices in districts across the nation. The law enforcement phase of counter-smuggling operations in the Caribbean Sea is conducted under the authority of the Coast Guard 7th District, headquartered in Miami, Florida. The interdictions, including the actual boardings, are led and conducted by members of the U.S. Coast Guard.