Webber Class Cutter Robert Ward Gets Another Pacific Drug Transit Zone Bust

The Coast Guard Cutter Robert Ward (WPC-1130) is shown shortly after mooring for the first time at its homeport at Coast Guard Base Los Angeles-Long Beach, Oct. 31, 2018. The Robert Ward is the second of four new Fast Response Cutters to be stationed in San Pedro, which will help to protect the people, ports and waterways of the region and maintain security for the global supply chain and critical infrastructure within California. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Brandyn Hill)

Below is a fairly routine press release. I would not normally reproduce these, because there are other places where the information is already available, but this is a bit unusual, in that one of the busts was made by a Webber class WPC, USCGC Robert Ward (WPC-1130), the first Webber class to make a drug bust in the Eastern Pacific Drug Transit Zone. Apparently they are at it again.

She had seized 3,000 pounds of cocaine in mid-July, that was brought into San Diego  by Steadfast (WMEC-623). At the end of August she returned to her homeport, San Pedro, bringing in another 2,800 pounds. Now she has taken another 1,500 pounds.

This is the new norm.

Incidentally, it is well over 3000 miles from San Pedro to the Transit Zone. Seventh District WPCs are actually a lot closer.

united states coast guard

News Release

U.S. Coast Guard 11th District PA Detachment San Diego
Contact: Coast Guard PA Detachment San Diego
Office: (619) 278-7025
After Hours: (619) 252-1304
PA Detachment San Diego online newsroom

Coast Guard offloads more than $92 million worth of cocaine in San Diego

 The Coast Guard Cutter Alert crew conducted a drug offload in San Diego, Oct. 16, 2019. The crew offloaded more than 6,800 pounds of cocaine, worth an estimated $92 million, seized in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. (U.S. Coast Guard B-Roll footage by Petty Officer 2nd Class Brandon Giles)
 Coast Guardsmen prepare bails of cocaine to be offloaded from the Coast Guard Cutter Alert in San Diego, October 16, 2019. The crew aboard the Alert offloaded approximately 6,800 pounds of cocaine. (Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Alex Gray) The Coast Guard Cutter Alert crew conducted a drug offload in San Diego, Oct. 16, 2019. The crew offloaded more than 6,800 pounds of cocaine, worth an estimated $92 million, seized in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. (Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Alex Gray) Bales of cocaine lie stacked under the deck of a suspected smuggling vessel in October interdicted by the crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Alert in international waters of the Eastern Pacific Ocean. Approximately 6,800 pounds of cocaine were seized and three suspected smugglers were detained. (U.S. Coast Guard photo) A suspected smuggling vessel drifts in international waters of the Eastern Pacific Ocean after being intercepted by the crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Alert in October. Approximately 6,800 pounds of cocaine were seized and three suspected smugglers were detained. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

Editors’ Note: Click on images and video above to download full-resolution version.

SAN DIEGO — The Coast Guard offloaded more than $92 million worth of seized cocaine in San Diego Wednesday.

The cocaine, worth more than $92 million, was seized in international waters of the Eastern Pacific Ocean. The contraband represents four suspected drug smuggling vessel interdictions by the crews of three Coast Guard cutters off the coasts of Mexico, Central and South America between late July and early October by the following Coast Guard cutters:

  • Alert (WMEC-630) was responsible for two cases, seizing approximately 4,000 pounds of cocaine
  • Robert Ward (WPC-1130) was responsible for one case, seizing approximately 1,500 pounds of cocaine
  • Seneca (WMEC-906) was responsible for one case, seizing approximately 1,400 pounds of cocaine

Numerous U.S. agencies from the Departments of Defense, Justice and Homeland Security are involved in the 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 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 throughout the country.

“I am extremely proud of this crew for doing their part to keep these dangerous drugs off the streets,” said Cmdr. Tyson Scofield, Alert’s commanding officer. “The Eastern Pacific Ocean is a challenging environment, especially on a ship that is in her 50th year of service, yet this crew persevered to disrupt the illegal flow of narcotics that fuels instability in Central and South America. The counter-drug mission is as important now as it has ever been, and these brave men and women can return home after a 69-day patrol knowing they made a difference.”

The Coast Guard increased the U.S. and allied presence in the Eastern 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 in international waters, a suspect vessel is initially located and tracked by allied, military or law enforcement personnel. The interdictions, including the actual boarding, are led and conducted by U.S. Coast Guardsmen. The law enforcement phase of counter-smuggling operations in the Eastern Pacific is conducted under the authority of the Coast Guard 11th District headquartered in Alameda.

The Alert is a 210-foot medium-endurance cutter homeported in Astoria, Oregon. The Robert Ward is a 154-foot fast-response cutter homeported in San Pedro. The Seneca is a 270-foot medium-endurance cutter homeported in Boston, Massachusetts.

-USCG-

The Other Prize Winning USNI Coast Guard Essays

At least for a little while, the three prize winning US Naval Institute Coast Guard Essays are available on line, and they are available whether you are a member or not. 

I did a separate post on the First prize winner earlier. The other two are linked below.

    “Rethink Coast Guard Priorities”—2nd Prize, By Lt Noah Miller, USCG
    “Guard the African Coast”—3rd Prize, By LCdr Stuart J. Ambrose, USCGR
Both are thoughtful efforts, well worth the read.
Lt Miller makes the case for devoting more assets to fisheries enforcement even at the expense of decreased drug enforcement. I think he has a point, particularly in regard to the Central and Western Pacific.
“The Western and Central Pacific region is extremely remote, so it is difficult to detect potential incursions and even more difficult to respond in a timely manner. However, tuna fisheries are present in these waters, and they are among the most valuable pelagic fisheries in the world.”
LCdr Ambrose tells us why the Coast Guard should be engaged in Africa.

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.

“Exclusive: ACLU Alleges Coast Guard Detained and Abused Fishermen” –The Atlantic

Photo source: ACLU

The Atlantic reports on a suit filed by the ACLU against the Coast Guard. I will make no comments on the merits. This is not the first time Coast Guard prisoner detention procedures have been questioned.

If the ACLU wins this case it could adversely effect our ability to perform the drug interdiction mission. This criticism is not going to go away. Any thing we could do to dull the criticism would probably be helpful.

“Narco_2019-03” –Covert Shores

A Low Profile vessel (LPV) intercepted by the Colombian Navy in March may represent the first sighting of a new family of nacrosubs. The camouflaged vessel combines the once-standard layout of having the payload in the bow, cockpit amidships and single internally mounted engine in the stern with the recent trend to Very Slender Vessels. VSV-narcosubs started to be seen spring 2017 and have evolved into two distinct lineages, but all have featured aft-mounted cockpits and outboard motors. The boat is 20 meters long and just two meters wide giving a fineness ratio of 10:1.

Covert Shores brings us another update on Narco trafficking vessels and recent captures by the USCG and by Colombia.

Something is Happening in Venezuela

Orthographic map of Venezuela centered on Caracas. Controlled territory in dark green. Claimed territory in light green. From Wikipedia, author: Addicted04

Venezuela is in an area vital to the Coast Guard’s drug interdiction effort.

CBS is reporting,

President Trump recognized the chief opposition leader in Venezuela, National Assembly President Juan Guaido, as the country’s legitimate interim president. The rare move by the White House comes as large anti-government protests erupted across the South American nation on Wednesday.

The Organization of American States (OAS) recently passed a resolution agreeing not to recognize the legitimacy of Maduro’s new term, which began on January 10.

What happens next is anybody’s guess. Civil war is possible, and it already looks like a humanitarian crisis. That our cutters may become involved in some way is not out of the question.

Thanks to Andres for bringing this to my attention.