USCGC Robert Ward (WPC-1130) Makes First Eastern Pacific Transit Zone Drug Bust by an FRC

A Coast Guard Cutter Robert Ward crew member inspects and prepares to test suspected contraband seized from a suspected drug smuggling boat in international waters of the Eastern Pacific Ocean, July 16, 2019. Commissioned March 2, 2019, Robert Ward’s interdiction marks the first drug interdiction in the Eastern Pacific Ocean by a Fast Response Cutter. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

A recent press release suggests that we will be seeing new, different, smaller ships engaged in drug interdiction in the Eastern Pacific drug transit zone. This could be precedence for a new kind of operation. I will only quote a part of it.

SAN DIEGO, Calif. — The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Steadfast (WMEC-632) is scheduled to offload more than 26,000 pounds of seized cocaine in San Diego Friday.

The cocaine, worth an estimated $350 million, was seized in international waters of the Eastern Pacific Ocean. The contraband represents six suspected drug smuggling vessel interdictions and the recovery of floating cocaine bales by the crews of two Coast Guard cutters off the coasts of Mexico, Central and South America between late June and mid-July.

Six of the interdictions were carried out by the Steadfast’s crew, one of the Coast Guard’s oldest cutters commissioned in 1968. One interdiction was by the crew of one of the service’s newest ships, the Coast Guard Cutter Robert Ward (WPC-1130) commissioned in March, and is not only the cutter’s first drug bust, but the first drug bust by a Coast Guard Sentinel-class fast response cutter in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. (emphasis applied–Chuck)

We have had a problem having enough ships on scene to take advantage of all the intel available. I have long suggested that the FRCs might be used in the Eastern Pacific, possibly with a supporting vessel. The Navy used one of their Cyclone class PCs for drug interdiction in the Eastern Pacific in 2018, confirming that the use of these smaller vessels was probably viable.

I had really expected Atlantic Area to do this first, since they have so many Webber class in the Seventh District (19, soon to be 20 FRCs), and they got them first (since 2012). Still the Eastern Pacific Transit Zone is a Pacific Area show, perhaps that is why it is PACAREA, using the Robert Ward, only the second West Coast CONUS FRC, commissioned little over four months ago, that took the initiative.

It looks like the Steadfast may have provided some support to the Robert Ward. This might have been facilitated by the fact that Steadfast is also a PACAREA asset.

Hopefully, if there were no unanticipated problems, this will be the start of a pattern of successful FRC deployments to the transit zone. To take full advantage of the concept, we really need Atlantic Area participation. They have far more assets and are actually closer to the transit zone. Excluding FRCs in the 14th and 17th Districts (Hawaii and the Western Pacific and Alaska) PACAREA has only four WPCs. They could maintain perhaps one FRC in the Transit Area continuously, while LANTAREA could maintain at least three and probably more.

Something we really should look at is, what is limiting the endurance of the vessels to five days? For a vessel of this size, it should be more like ten days. Feedback on the post linked above, suggest they are limited by “their very small dry-stores and refrigerator units, and the crew’s laundry.” Perhaps a ShipAlt is in order.

7 thoughts on “USCGC Robert Ward (WPC-1130) Makes First Eastern Pacific Transit Zone Drug Bust by an FRC

  1. Good catch for the US Coast Guard. And once again forward logistics comes into play. A ship which could refuel, resupply, provide technical support and even have a flight deck would be a good Force Enabler.
    Such a ship can be chartered to reduce capital costs and lead time. MSC has chartered several Maritime Support Vessels so a baseline contract is already written.
    And the contraband could be secured on the support ship, instead of being sent back on a cutter.

  2. A few years ago they would send some of the 87’s from the Pacific Northwest to San Diego in the winter for drug patrols and I am told they did well. The downside is that the Wahington and Oregon coasts can be rough in the winter and some of the 87’s got a bit beat up in the transit at times. I am guessing they might still be transferring assets around but I have not talked with the commanders in a couple of years.

  3. I really liked Chuck’s CutterX concept. Something a little larger, with better endurance and aviation facilities. A relatively simple ship, kitted out to roughly the level of the FRC. The idea struck me as a very useful yet cost-effective asset. Still does.

    • Only way that might happen now is to trade off some OPCs. Probably could build at least two Cutter X for the price of an OPC. Still not likely. I am looking to what we will do about replacing the 87 foot Marine Protector WPBs next.

  4. WPC Robert Ward returns from Eastern Pacific transit zone drug patrol. Made at least one more bust. Press release below.
    WHO: Rear Adm. Peter W. Gautier, the 11th Coast Guard District commander, Lt. Benjamin Davne, the Coast Guard Cutter Robert Ward commanding officer.
    WHAT: The crew of the Robert Ward is scheduled to return from patrol with approximately 2,800 pounds of cocaine seized from suspected drug smugglers in drug transit zones of the Eastern Pacific Ocean.
    WHEN: Thursday at 8 a.m.
    WHERE: Coast Guard Base Los Angeles-Long Beach at 1001 S. Seaside Ave., San Pedro, CA 90731.
    SAN PEDRO, Calif. — The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Robert Ward (WPC-1130) is scheduled to return from their first patrol of the drug transit zones of the Eastern Pacific Ocean with approximately 2,800 pounds of seized cocaine Thursday.
    The cocaine, worth an estimated $38.5 million, was seized by the crews of the Robert Ward and another Coast Guard cutter patrolling the region. An additional estimated 3,000 pounds of cocaine, seized by the crew of the Robert Ward in mid-July in the cutter’s first ever drug bust, was transferred to the Coast Guard Cutter Steadfast (WMEC-623) and brought ashore in San Diego last month as part of a 13-ton bulk offload.
    “The Cutter Robert Ward and three other newly-commissioned cutters based in San Pedro are strengthening the Coast Guard’s safety, security and counter-smuggling efforts along our coast and in the shipping zones off Central and South America,” said Rear Adm. Peter W. Gautier, the 11th Coast Guard District commander. “I’m proud of the Ward’s crew and applaud their actions to disrupt the cartels that profit from crime, addiction and ruined American lives.”
    The Robert Ward is one of four newly commissioned Coast Guard Fast Response Cutters (FRCs) homeported in San Pedro as part of the Coast Guard’s efforts to strengthen forces in the region and increase safety, security and emergency response capabilities.
    “This was a fantastic patrol,” said Lt. Benjamin Davne, Robert Ward’s commanding officer. “We helped stem the flow of illegal drugs by seizing and disrupting more than three tons of cocaine. We saved lives by keeping these drugs off the streets. Our crew is in friendly competition with other fast response cutter crews stationed in other parts of the nation and on our first patrol we are already credited with the second largest cocaine seizure and disruption rate for any Coast Guard ship in our class.”
    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 by U.S. Attorneys in districts across the nation.
    The Coast Guard increased U.S. and allied presence in the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Basin, which are known drug transit zones off of Central and South America, as part of its Western Hemisphere Strategy.
    During at-sea interdictions, a suspect vessel is initially detected and monitored by allied, military or law enforcement personnel coordinated by Joint Interagency Task Force-South based in Key West, Florida. The law enforcement phase of counter-smuggling operations in the Eastern Pacific Ocean is conducted under the authority of the 11th Coast Guard District, headquartered in Alameda.
    Commissioned in March, the Robert Ward is one of four recently commissioned FRCs assigned to the 11th Coast Guard District to bolster Coast Guard safety and security operations in the Pacific Southwest region.

  5. Pingback: Webber Class Cutter Robert Ward Gets Another Pacific Drug Transit Zone Bust | Chuck Hill's CG Blog

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