Big drug catches in Pacific
The bow of the USS Thach was slicing the Pacific waters off Colombia’s coast when the alarm blared; time to hunt down a cocaine ship.
US ships look to net big drug catches in Pacific
The bow of the USS Thach was slicing the Pacific waters off Colombia’s coast when the alarm suddenly blared across the US Navy frigate. It was time to hunt down a cocaine ship.
Armed sailors rushed to positions on the bridge and US Coast Guard personnel jumped on an inflatable boat to chase the drug smuggling vessel. After eight days at sea, the 240 sailors finally had a potential big catch.
The USS Thach was sailing the Pacific as part of Operation Martillo, a mission launched in January 2012 by the United States with Central American nations in an unprecedented militarization of the war on drugs.
Sometimes the smugglers try to outsmart the patrols by using fishing vessels or high-powered speed boats, but the most daring travel in makeshift semi-submersibles. Some can carry as much as a ton of drugs.
“We go on board these vessels and we try to determine whether or not they have contraband,” said Lieutenant Eric Watkins, head of the ship’s Coast Guard crew.
“We make sure we have 100 percent accountability of all the space on board and that is basically how we find drugs.”
This time, surveillance airplanes detected a suspect ship in international waters, but the smugglers tossed their cargo into the ocean and no arrests were made. The Coast Guard crew fished out 70 brown packages, each containing one kilogram (2.2 pounds) of cocaine.
The sailors spend long days at sea without seeing much action. They fill their time by conducting rescue exercises, testing light weapons or doing chores like re-painting the bridge.
But when the “phase 1” alarm sounds, the crew is on a war footing in less than 30 minutes.
“Eighty percent of the narcotics that are ultimately destined for the United States transit through these waterways, so it makes sense for us to have a very substantial presence down here,” said USS Thach’s blond and broad-shouldered Captain Hans Lynch.