While much of the nation is focusing on the opioid crisis in the U.S., cocaine smuggling is making a big comeback and that means the Coast Guard must be alert for small boat and even homemade submarines.
Often times the crews of the boats carrying the contraband will jettison their illegal cargo overboard if they feel that law enforcement is bearing down on them and they’ll string the bales together in an attempt to possibly retrieve the drugs later. This practice netted an unlikely, unwitting accomplice recently.
But what the crew of the cutter Thetis encountered in the eastern Pacific during a two-month mission was a surprise: a sea turtle trapped by the contraband.
Commander Jose Diaz told NBC News that a military plane spotted the debris field and his team moved in to inspect.
There were 26 rectangular packages containing cocaine strung together, likely jettisoned from a go-fast vessel.
“They probably felt the heat coming and got rid of it,” Diaz said of the smugglers.
The turtle was entangled, lines wrapped around its neck and fins. “There were some marks on her neck, so she may have been there a day or two,” Diaz said.
The guardsmen freed the turtle from the jumble and seized the drugs — more than 800 kilos of cocaine, authorities said.
The cutter was part of Operation Martillo, an international effort launched in 2012 to target trafficking routes along the Central American coast. In the latest patrol, the overall operation seized 7 tons of cocaine worth $135 million, officials said.
While opioids remain the greatest drug threat in America, cocaine availability and use are “rebounding,” reaching or passing levels not seen for a decade in some cases, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.
The war in Colombia between the government and the rebel group FARC had in its agreement that the terror group would no longer take part in the drug trade that helped finance their operations. But reports are coming out of Bogota that drug production is rising. And most of their product ends up in the United States.
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Photo courtesy NBC Video Screenshot