PORTSMOUTH, Va.– The Coast Guard Cutter Northland (WMEC 904), a HITRON crew and TACLET team returned to homeport Sunday, following a 76-day counter-narcotics patrol in the Eastern Pacific Ocean in support of the Coast Guard 11th District.
Throughout the deployment, the ship patrolled the waters of the Eastern Pacific Ocean in search of vessels suspected of smuggling illicit narcotics across international boundaries. In addition to the cutter’s permanently assigned crewmembers, Northland was augmented by an aviation detachment from Coast Guard Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron (HITRON) and a Coast Guard Tactical Law Enforcement Detachment (TACLET). A true force multiplier, Northland’s HITRON detachment operated an MH-65E Dolphin helicopter, capable of conducting overhead reconnaissance and employing aerial use of force by precision marksmen upon narcotics smuggling vessels. As law enforcement and interdiction specialists, the TACLET personnel augmented the ship’s pursuit teams, and provided specialized training to crewmembers to better prepare the cutter for interdiction and boarding operations.
While on patrol, Northland interdicted a low-profile vessel (LPV) and one go-fast panga-style vessel suspected of trafficking illicit narcotics. The interdictions resulted in 6,223 pounds of suspected cocaine seized and 761 pounds of suspected marijuana seized with an estimated street value of nearly $83 million and the detention of six individuals suspected of the illegal transport of narcotics. On June 30, the cutter offloaded the seized narcotics at Coast Guard Base Miami.
In addition to maintaining a sentinel presence in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, the Coast Guard Cutter Northland conducted an Exercise Contingent to Operations with Ecuadorian Naval and Coast Guard personnel in San Cristobal, Galapagos, Ecuador. Northland arrived in the Galapagos for the first time in the cutter’s 38-year history on May 10, and became only the second Coast Guard ship to anchor in the pristine waters of the Galapagos Islands in over a decade.
The exercise served as a critical step toward strengthening United States-Ecuador strategic relations in the region and was attended by the U.S. Consul General to Ecuador and the President of the Governing Council of the Galapagos Province. Joint training operations between Northland and Ecuadorian Naval and Coast Guard personnel included a joint patrol with the LAE Isla San Cristobal (LG-30); small boat tactics and training; tours of Northland and the Isla San Cristobal; a joint leadership luncheon; and a discussion on tactics and procedures for combatting illegal narcotics smuggling and illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing in the Galapagos region. Following the exercise’s official events, USCGC Northland crewmembers had the opportunity to explore the island of San Cristobal and enjoy Ecuador’s sights, snorkeling and cuisine.
Following Northland’s northbound transit through the Panama Canal, the ship rescued six stranded Cuban nationals from a deserted island in Cay Sal Bank, Bahamas. The rescue was carried out while Northland conducted migrant interdiction operations in support of the Coast Guard 7th District.
“This deployment was a success thanks to the efforts of our crew and our HITRON and TACLET detachments, who we were thrilled to have aboard with us. Between crossing the Equator, visiting the Galapagos Islands and deterring the illicit activity of transnational criminal organizations, our crew is returning home with both once-in-a-lifetime sea stories and a validated sense of accomplishment,” said Cmdr. Patricia M. Bennett, Northland’s commanding officer. “As my last patrol in command of this ship, I am extremely proud of the adaptability, ingenuity and determination demonstrated by this remarkable crew on a daily basis.”
Numerous U.S. agencies from the Departments of Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security cooperate in an effort to combat transnational organized crime. The Coast Guard, Navy, Customs and Border Protection, FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, along with allied and international partner agencies, play a role in counter-drug operations.
The fight against drug cartels in the Eastern Pacific Ocean requires unity of effort in all phases from detection, monitoring and interdictions, to criminal prosecutions for interdictions by United States Attorney’s Offices throughout the nation. The law enforcement phase of counter-smuggling operations in the Eastern Pacific Ocean is conducted under the authority of the Eleventh Coast Guard District, headquartered in Alameda, California. The interdictions, including the actual boardings, are led and conducted by members of the Coast Guard.
The Northland is a 270-foot medium-endurance cutter homeported in Portsmouth, Virginia and routinely deploys in support of counter-drug, alien migrant interdiction, fisheries, search and rescue, and homeland security missions.
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