OPBAT program cuts volume of drug traffic through the region
By JOHN C. MARCARIO, Assistant Editor
boats during lobster season, are all
used to transport drugs, he said.
“While on patrol, we’ll come
across vessels smuggling [illegal
drugs] and people and they will be
obvious, from the air,” Billburg
Semi-submersible vessels, which
have become popular modes of
narcotic transport in the Florida
Straits and South America, have
not yet made their way to the Bahamas area, he said.
OPBAT comprises the U.S.
Coast Guard, DEA, Department of
Defense, Royal Bahamas Police Force and Royal Turks
and Caicos Police Force. The U.S. Air Force was part of
The Coast Guard’s responsibilities as part of Operation Bahamas,
Turks and Caicos (OPBAT) have evolved during the past seven years.
■ Once solely responsible for counter-drug operations, the service
also does Alien Migrant Interdiction along with search-and-rescue
■ Nine Coast Guard officials are based in the Bahamas and more
than 150 are part of the overall program.
■ The service has been involved with OPBAT since 1987.
The long-running multi-agency Operation
Bahamas, Turks and Caicos (OPBAT), spearheaded by the U.S. Coast Guard and Drug
Enforcement Administration (DEA), has dramatically
reduced the flow of illegal drugs traveling from the
region into the United States.
During the 1970s, 80 percent of cocaine that
entered the United States came via the Bahamas,
according to the DEA. That figure has shrunk to less
than 10 percent, as 90 percent of drug traffic entering
the United States now comes through the southwestern border, according to the DEA.
“We have really seen the threat shift since OPBAT
began,” said Cmdr. David Billburg, director of the
OPBAT operations center in Nassau, the Bahamas.
As of October 2007, OPBAT efforts resulted in the
seizure of 93,808 kilograms of cocaine and 1. 4 million
pounds of marijuana, with a street value of more than
$3 billion, according to figures from the U.S. Embassy
in the Bahamas.
When OPBAT began in 1983, Billburg said planes
would make several drug airdrops each day around the
region. The threat now, however, has shifted more to
the maritime side. Container ships, sport or fishing-type vessels going through the Bahamas, and lobster
U.S. COAST GUARD
Crew members aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Tampa
stand with some of the 5,000 pounds of marijuana and
more than 300 pounds of hashish oil seized on a go-fast
boat in the southeastern Bahamas in 2001. Operation
Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, spearheaded by the U.S.
Coast Guard and Drug Enforcement Administration, has
dramatically reduced the flow of illegal drugs being transported through the region.