After the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Bernard C. Webber docked at the base in Miami Beach one day last month, personnel unloaded $17 million worth of cocaine seized from suspected drug-traffickers who carried it aboard a go-fast boat interdicted near the Dominican Republic.
Wearing face masks, the men and women of the Bernard C. Webber carefully offloaded the 22 bales containing the cocaine seized during the operation southeast of Isla Beata near the border between the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
It was just the latest in a string of similar drug seizures in the Atlantic, Caribbean and Pacific carried out by U.S. and allied vessels seeking to disrupt routes used by narco-traffickers from Colombia and Mexico. These seizures have been made by Coast Guard vessels with the assistance of foreign warships, largely from Western Europe.
In this case, the interdiction operation involved the Coast Guard and the HNLMS Friesland, an offshore patrol vessel from the Royal Netherlands Navy.
Seizures are generally carried out under two major international anti-drug dragnets: Operation Martillo and Operation Caribbean Venture.
While the Coast Guard provided some details about the 22 bales of cocaine offloaded at its Miami Beach base, the fuller story emerged in Miami federal court records.
A criminal complaint filed Nov. 20 by a special agent of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), a unit of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), provided details of the case.
According to the complaint, the case began when a go-fast boat powered by two outboard engines left the northern coast of Colombia and headed north into the Atlantic Ocean.
It came to the attention of U.S. officials when a Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) on Nov. 15 spotted the go-fast heading north from the Colombian coast, according to the criminal complaint.
“The MPA identified the suspect vessel as a go-fast vessel with two engines, four individuals on board, and visible packages on the deck,” the criminal complaint said.
The surveillance aircraft followed the go-fast until it reached a point south of the Dominican Republic. At some point, according to the complaint, HNLMS Friesland personnel launched a small vessel with U.S. Coast Guard crew members to interdict and board the go-fast.
One of the go-fast crew members told Coast Guard personnel that their vessel had a Colombian registry, but the complaint said U.S. officials were unable to confirm that.
As a result, they declared the vessel stateless. Then they seized and searched it.
The Coast Guard officers who boarded the go-fast found the 22 bales on the deck and four people — Darío Apshana, José Olaya Deluque, Marlon Pinto Díaz and Edgar Ibañez Parra — who all said they were Colombian, according to the criminal complaint.
The four men and the 22 bales eventually were transferred to the HNLMS Friesland. The contents of the 22 bales weighed about 500 kilos and tested positive for cocaine, the complaint said.
Afterward, the four Colombians were transferred to the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Bernard C. Webber, which brought them to Miami Beach where federal agents arrested them.
The defendants are now facing prosecution in Miami federal court.
HSI withheld comment because the case is still under investigation.