Global partnerships tackle drug trafficking

search for contraband

Lt. j.g. Peter Deneen and his team practice searching for contraband during a training session at the International Maritime Interdiction Course. Photo courtesy of Lt. j.g. Peter Deneen

In a span of 12 hours this spring, the crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Sherman stopped two drug-trafficking attempts while patrolling the Eastern Pacific Ocean.

The first, a self-propelled semi-submersible vessel often called a drug sub, was spotted by the sharp bridge watch-standers on Sherman and seized approximately $153 million worth of cocaine.

SPSS sinking

Four suspected traffickers exit a self-propelled semi-submersible vessel prior to its sinking. The Coast Guard Cutter Sherman interdicted it and took all four into custody. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Within an hour of completing this interdiction, Sherman was diverted to investigate another suspected drug-trafficking vessel. Sherman’s helicopter lifted off, arrived on scene and within a matter of minutes witnessed the crew of the vessel jettisoning contraband into the water. Boarding teams deployed from Sherman recovered a bale of evidence before it sank, completed a full inspection of the vessel and took the suspected traffickers into custody.

All in a day’s work on a Joint Interagency Task Force Patrol, much of which could not be done as effectively without the coordination and partnership of international counterparts.

Lt. j.g. Peter Deneen, one of Sherman’s boarding officers, added these two cases to the 13 drug interdictions he has prosecuted in just two years assigned to the Sherman. With no rest for the weary, Deneen left Sherman shortly after the two busts to train at the Colombian Naval Base in Cartagena de Indias at the International Maritime Interdiction Course.

With the objective of enabling joint strategies for combating the increasing threat of drug trafficking at sea, the Colombian Coast Guard opened the course to 20 naval officers from 13 countries across the Americas. The U.S. Coast Guard sends two fluent Spanish-speaking junior officers to the course each year.

“The two months of training was based on the Colombian boarding officer course with a focus on international relationship building,” Deneen said. “High-speed pursuit boat handling, special forces weapons training and jungle warfare tactics aren’t usually opportunities afforded to junior officers on U.S. cutters. But it gives you a great perspective on the level of international training and confidence in our partners.”

survival at sea

Lt. j.g. Peter Deneen and an international officer participate in survival at sea training, which included being stranded out at sea for more than a day to give the officers an idea of what effects they would encounter in a real life situation. Photo courtesy of Lt. j.g Peter Deneen

Taught entirely in Spanish, the course educates the students on weapons and tactics training, maritime law and enforcement, first aid, survival at sea, and country specific issues.

“The U.S. Coast Guard is recognized as the premier maritime drug interdiction force in the world,” said Deneen, who served as Sherman’s law enforcement division officer and has attended numerous courses at the Coast Guard Maritime Law Enforcement Academy. “The officers from the nations of the Americas, even the instructors, would defer to me as an authority on the subject.”

From joint patrols to drug interdiction agreements, international partnership is essential to maritime security in the Caribbean and the Eastern Pacific. Coast Guard cutters patrol these transit zones and work closely with their Central and South American counterparts to stop drugs from getting close to the U.S.

“This is a great opportunity for the U.S. Coast Guard to share its expertise and experience in the fight against drug trafficking and strengthen international cooperation,” said Lt. Cmdr. Luis Rodriguez, Regional Director for Latin America and Caribbean in the U.S. Coast Guard Directorate of International Affairs. “The biggest gain for the U.S. Coast Guard is forging bonds.

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