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 News Article

Coast Guard Cutter Returning From Successful Drug Interdiction Patrol

By Lt. j.g. Matthew Cunningham, USCG
Special to American Forces Press Service

KEY WEST, Fla., March 4, 2005 – Coast Guard Cutter Mohawk returns home March 11, a little heavier than when it left Key West two and a half months ago. Along with its 100-person crew, Mohawk carries 37 bales of cocaine weighing more than 2,600 pounds - with a street value of nearly $25 million -- from an at-sea drug interdiction. The Mohawk crew patrolled the Caribbean Sea for nearly their entire 67-day patrol, working primarily for Joint Interagency Task Force South, also based in Key West. While performing the Coast Guard's law enforcement, homeland security and alien migrant interdiction missions, the Mohawk was involved with several cases involving drug-smuggling "go-fast" vessels.

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Coast Guard Seamen Chris Bedford, Daniel Rowland, Stephen Hartie and Daniel Rowland (left to right) help load one of 37 bales of cocaine the crew of U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Mohawk seized on a drug interdiction patrol. Coast Guard photo

(Click photo for screen-resolution image)

In the first case, Mohawk's high-speed small boat pursued a suspected smuggling vessel, and, after a grueling chase into the seas just south of the Bahamas, stopped the vessel. Mohawk's boarding team, along with a Royal Bahamian Defense Force officer, boarded the vessel and did not find drugs. But authorities reported finding 30 bales of marijuana, weighing about 1,100 pounds, in the water -- allegedly dumped by the vessel's occupants prior to the interception. The vessel and the three people on board were turned over to Bahamian authorities.

"It was an intense chase involving high speeds and rough seas, but we did our job and stopped the smugglers," said Petty Officer 3rd Class Justin Scalio, the coxswain of Mohawk's small boat.

A second chase involved Coast Guard, U.S. Navy, and Nicaraguan assets. A Navy asset located a go-fast vessel sitting dead in the water in the central Caribbean, and Mohawk and a Navy ship were diverted to intercept it. The Mohawk crew Mohawk deployed its high-speed pursuit boat, and the Navy ship launched its helicopter. The go-fast vessel started to run, and jettisoned its large cargo of cocaine, along with some fuel barrels, during the extensive chase.

The boat eventually entered Nicaraguan territorial seas and Nicaraguan military forces from that country continued the chase of the vessel, eventually forcing the vessel to beach itself, but the suspects escaped into the jungle. The Mohawk crew recovered 37 bales of cocaine weighing about 2,600 pounds that were dumped during the chase. The crew will turn the drugs over to U.S. Interdictions and Customs Enforcement authorities.

Another high-speed chase of a drug smuggling vessel by the Mohawk and other counter-drug forces ended when a military aircraft from another Caribbean country shot at and disabled the engines of the boat. The counter-drug efforts in the Caribbean frequently involve the combined, joint efforts of numerous Caribbean nations, the U.S. Coast Guard, and other U.S. agencies.

"We've been gone from Key West since early January," said Capt. Dave Ely, commanding officer of the Mohawk. "Every one of our patrols has its own unique adventures, and this one was no different. In the past two months, Mohawk's fine crew definitely succeeded in disrupting the flow of a significant amount of cocaine from South America to our country, and some drug-smuggler 'pirates' are in custody and out of business."

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