The U.S. Coast Guard announced today the record maritime seizure of approximately 42,845 pounds of cocaine aboard the Panamanian flagged motor vessel Gatun on Sunday off the coast of Panama by the San Diego-based Coast Guard cutter Hamilton and the Alameda, Calif.-based Coast Guard cutter Sherman.
A Coast Guard C-130 maritime patrol aircraft spotted the Gatun approximately 20 miles southwest of Isla de Coiba, Panama on Saturday. The Coast Guard obtained flag-state consent to board the vessel through a maritime agreement between the U.S. and Panama. A Coast Guard boarding team conducted a search and discovered the cocaine hidden in two containers aboard the ship. The 14 Panamanian and Mexican crewmembers of the Gatun were arrested and are being transferred to the U.S. and Panama for prosecution.
“This operation is a prime example of interagency teamwork among the DEA, the Coast Guard, and other Homeland Security and Department of Justice components,” said Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff. “I also want to commend the Government of Panama for their continued assistance and cooperation. Because of the combined efforts of these federal and international partners, millions of dollars in illegal drugs did not make their way into our homeland and criminal groups were not able reap the huge profits.”
“This record-breaking seizure was the result of good actionable intelligence and the closest collaboration amongst our interagency partners through Operation Panama Express,” said Adm. Thad Allen, commandant of the Coast Guard. “Beyond that, our hard working crews overcame significant challenges in maintaining a 40-year-old deepwater cutter to prosecute this mission far from U.S. shores, ultimately preventing nearly 20 tons of cocaine from reaching streets all across America in a single stroke.”
“This weekend Mexican drug traffickers were awaiting the arrival of 19 metric tons of cocaine that is now in the hands of U.S. law enforcement instead of the hands of drug traffickers and abusers,” said DEA Administrator Karen P. Tandy. “This record-breaking seizure denied the Mexican drug lords $300 million in drug revenue. This lost drug revenue, combined with last week’s unrelated record-breaking $205 million cash seizure by the Government of Mexico working in partnership with DEA, dealt Mexican traffickers a one-two punch: they’re down more than half a billion dollars in blood money in just 48 hours.”
Previously, the largest cocaine seizures by the Coast Guard were: 30,109 pounds from the stateless-vessel Lina Maria, on Sept. 17, 2004; 26,397 pounds from the Cambodian-flagged vessel Svesda Maru on May 1, 2001; and 26,369 pounds from the Belize-flagged vessel San Jose on Sept. 23, 2004.