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Charleston-based Coast Guard cutter part of operation that seized $420 million of cocaine

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US Coast Guard cocaine seizure

The crew of Coast Guard Cutter James, which is based in Charleston, and a Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron helicopter crew pose with approximately 16 tons of cocaine on Tuesday, March 28, 2017, in Port Everglades, Fla. The cocaine was intercepted in international waters in the eastern Pacific Ocean. U.S. Coast Guard/Provided

A Charleston-based Coast Guard cutter is returning to port after taking part in an operation that seized roughly 16 tons of cocaine off the Central and South American coasts.

Authorities loaded the total amount of cocaine seized, estimated to be worth $420 million, onto the Cutter James, which dropped off its illicit cargo at Port Everglades, Fla., on Tuesday, according to the Coast Guard. The drug operation took place over 26 days and involved 17 suspected drug-smuggling vessels.

"I am extremely proud of the crew of Coast Guard Cutter James and our (helicopter) detachment for a highly successful inaugural patrol," Vice Adm. Karl Schultz, commander of Coast Guard Atlantic Area, said in a statement. The Cutter is based in Charleston.

"Our persistent maritime presence in drug trafficking zones from cutters like James enables us to interdict bulk quantities of drugs at sea, preventing criminal networks' illicit cargoes from reaching the shores of Central America, and land routes into the United States."

The following crews were involved in the operation:

  • Cutter James and a Coast Guard helicopter-based drug enforcement team, five cases, 5.19 tons.
  • Cutter Mohawk, headquartered in Key West, Fla., seven cases, about 5.79 tons.
  • Cutter Sherman, headquartered in Honolulu, Hawaii, one case, about 1 ton.
  • Cutter Tampa, headquartered in Portsmouth, Va., three cases, 3 tons.
  • Royal Canadian Ship HMCS Saskatoon, which also had a Coast Guard team, one case, 1 ton.

U.S. and allied authorities have increased their presence in known drug trafficking zones in the eastern Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean, according to the Coast Guard.

"The fight against transnational organized crime networks in the eastern Pacific requires unity of effort in all phases from detection, monitoring and interdictions, to prosecutions by U.S. Attorneys in California, on the East Coast and in the Caribbean," according to the Coast Guard.

Reach Gregory Yee at 843-937-5908. Follow him on Twitter @GregoryYYee.

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