US CBP AMO P-3 crews, partners seize 20 tons of narcotics

U.S. Customs and Border Protection ( US CBP ), Air and Marine Operations (AMO) worked with their federal and international partners to seize nearly 37,887 pounds of cocaine and 1,518 pounds of marijuana in international waters between November 1 and December 31, 2022, denying criminal organizations an estimated $77.3 million in proceeds.

On November 10, a National Air Security Operations Center P-3 Long Range Tracker crew responded to reports of a suspect low-profile vessel in the Caribbean. The P-3 aircrew assumed tracking of the vessel and communicated with partner nation naval vessel teams who recovered nine bales of cocaine and apprehended three people before losing contact with the partially submerged vessel. Three days later, the partner nation maritime team reacquired the vessel, conducted a thorough search, and seized 6,852 pounds of cocaine.

On December 15, AMO and Joint Interagency Task Force—South partners effected seizure of 1.9 tons of cocaine. A P-3 Long Range Tracker located a low-profile vessel in the Eastern Pacific and relayed the position to Southern Command partners. An international maritime crew responded to interdict. However, the suspect vessel crew outran the partner nation team. Guatemalan maritime crew responded to pursue the vessel and successfully conducted the interdiction. The partner national team apprehended one Columbian national and two Ecuadorian nationals and seized 3,792 pounds of cocaine.

This event highlights the success of a recent transfer of 39-foot Midnight Express Interceptor Vessels from Air and Marine Operations to the Department of State for donation to Guatemala Fuerza Especial Naval (FEN) for use in counternarcotics operations in the Eastern Pacific. AMO also deployed Marine Interdiction Agents to provide follow on Integration Training in Guatemala as part of a multi-year initiative to enhance their maritime interdiction capacity. The vessels were officially transferred in early April 2021, and AMO agents conducted Integration Training in May 2021. A key reason for the transfer was to increase speed, range and capability of the FEN – a key partner in maritime counter-narcotics efforts in the Eastern Pacific.

AMO has P-3 NASO Centers located in Jacksonville, FL and Corpus Christi, TX. P-3 aircrews operate throughout North, Central and South America in defense of the borders of the United States to prevent attempts to smuggle persons or contraband and are vital in partnership with U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) detection and monitoring operations. This partnership bolsters support to U.S. and international law enforcement by sharing information and intelligence to help identify, track and disrupt suspected illicit trafficking targets.