THE WATCH staff
The United States Coast Guard marked its 231st birthday on August 4, 2021, and celebrated the next day when it conducted the largest illegal drug offload in the service’s history.
Cocaine and marijuana worth more than an estimated U.S. $1.4 billion were seized over the course of three months, the Coast Guard said. In a Coast Guard photo, the drug bundles filled most of the helicopter pad on the 418-foot-long USCGC James, whose home port is Charleston, South Carolina.
“We can’t think of a better way to commemorate that birthday … than with the Cutter James crew and to thank the crew of [the Royal Canadian Navy ship HMCS] Shawinigan,” said Vice Adm. Steven Poulin, Atlantic Area commander, during an August 5 news conference at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, according to the Miami Herald newspaper.
Even though the drugs were unloaded from the USCGC James, the seizures involved a task force that included the Canadian vessel, which also docked for the offload; Coast Guard cutters and U.S. Navy ships; and a Dutch ship, according to a news release from the USCG. The interdictions and boarding were carried out by crews from the Coast Guard, which is unique among the U.S. Armed Forces in that it is vested by Congress with broad law enforcement responsibilities.
All told, the drugs were the result of more than 20 interdictions over the past several months in the Caribbean and Eastern Pacific, according to the Orlando Sentinel newspaper.
“It’s historic,” Poulin said of the offload, according to the Sentinel. He shared credit with other U.S. agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, the Drug Enforcement Administration, FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The commanding officer of USCGC James, Capt. Todd Vance, said the seizure was twice the size of a fall 2020 load of confiscated drugs despite “operating under challenging maritime conditions amid a global pandemic,” the Sentinel reported.
Poulin, who was flanked by the confiscated bundles — the USCG reported there were 59,700 pounds of cocaine and 1,430 pounds of marijuana — said the cooperative interdictions help to bring stability and security to the Western Hemisphere.
“The Canadian government and Canadian Defence Forces bring an incredible capability in defeating transnational organized crime, and I’m grateful to HMCS Shawinigan to showcase Canada’s commitment,” Poulin said in the USCG news release.
Maj. Gen. Paul Ormsby, the Canadian defense attache, praised the joint operations with the USCG. (Pictured: Crews from the USCGC James and HMCS Shawinigan pose with the confiscated drugs.)
“The kind of cooperation that we see on the pier today is one of the thousands of impressive examples of cooperation every day,” Ormsby said in the USCG news release.
The Coast Guard, whose motto of Semper Paratus means “Always Ready,” said crews often carried out the interdictions at night and in hazardous seas.
“Every bale of cocaine on this flight deck that doesn’t make it to our shores represents lives saved in New York City, Philly, Chicago, Los Angeles or any small town in the U.S. that’s dealing with pandemic levels of drug overdoses this year,” Vance said, according to the Sentinel.
IMAGE CREDIT: PETTY OFFICER 3RD CLASS RYAN ESTRADA/U.S. COAST GUARD