Protecting America: Coast Guard counter-drug aircrews record 500th drug bust

This is part of a series highlighting the Coast Guard’s law enforcement missions and operations. Under 14 USC § 2, the U.S. Coast Guard is the only federal law enforcement agency with jurisdiction in both U.S. waters and on the high seas. The Coast Guard enforces U.S. laws and treaties focused on conducting multi-agency counterdrug operations, interdicting illegal migrants and contraband, protecting living marine resources, ensuring maritime homeland security and helping to stem weapons proliferation, among other critical tasks.

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Written by Lt. David H. Blue

The aircrew of the Florida-based Coast Guard Helicopter Interdiction Squadron stand for a photo after the 500th recorded drug bust in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, March 11, 2017. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

The aircrew of the Florida-based Coast Guard Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron stand for a photo after the 500th recorded drug bust in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, March 11, 2017. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

The Coast Guard’s Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron (HITRON) marked its 500th drug interdiction when a deployed crew stopped a drug-laden go-fast vessel at 1:30 a.m. in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, March 11, 2017.

The Florida-based crew was deployed aboard a Coast Guard cutter in the Eastern Pacific Ocean conducting counter drug operations in international waters supporting Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft’s Western Hemisphere Strategy.

This is a historic benchmark for the Coast Guard as HITRON has successfully interdicted 500 vessels transporting approximately 422,000 kilograms of cocaine and 27,000 kg of marijuana with a wholesale value of more than $16.7 billion. HITRON was commissioned in 2000 with the specific mission to pursue and stop suspect go-fast vessels and halt the flow of illegal drugs into the U.S. with armed helicopters operating aboard Coast Guard cutters and land-based facilities in the southern area of responsibility.

HITRON helicopters operate in known smuggling vectors and rely on expertly trained aircrews and precision marksmen to disable go-fast drug smuggling vessels in the event suspects refuse to comply with verbal and visual warnings for law enforcement boardings in accordance with international maritime law.

The previous three fiscal years (FY) were record setting years for HITRON in which crews continued to surpass the previous year’s total interdictions and seizures. In FY 2016, HITRON, in a joint effort with partner agencies, successfully interdicted or stopped 83 vessels and 73,550 kg of cocaine valued at nearly $2.8 billion at sea.

“This achievement is a direct reflection of the training, perseverance, and teamwork from our aircrews, support personnel and other deployed forces and partner agencies that support this dynamic mission and work together to achieve remarkable results in a joint effort countering illegal drug smuggling,” said Capt. Kevin P. Gavin, commanding officer of HITRON.

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