Valencia Saac were stopped by U.S. Navy Sailors and a
Coast Guard law enforcement team in a vessel 550 miles
off the coast of Ecuador. The next day, Isaias Estupinan,
Johny Moriano Jiminez, Ever Balbino Ibargue Mosquera
and Efrain Cuero Portocarrero were captured after being
intercepted by the Coast Guard Cutter Alert in a vessel
about 150 miles off the Ecuador-Colombia border.
Four other suspected traffickers were apprehended
Dec. 31 after their semi-submersible was intercepted off
Ecuador by a U.S. Navy/Coast Guard team. The vessels
in all three intercepts sank before any contraband could
be retrieved, according to the Coast Guard. All of the
suspects currently are awaiting trial.
Steve Cole, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney for
the Middle District of Florida, lauded the Interdiction
Act’s expanded prosecutorial powers because, “
obviously, semi-submersibles have one purpose in mind —
and that’s smuggling.”
“Hopefully, a big precedent will be set shortly,” said
Allen at the symposium when talking about the importance of getting convictions out of the cases.
“We anticipate that this new law and successful
enforcement will continue to keep the pressure on the
drug smuggling organizations and require them to
expend additional effort to adapt to other means of conveyance,” Allen told Seapower Feb. 3.
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., chairman of the
House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee on the Coast Guard and maritime transportation,
believes the new law will help the Coast Guard better
combat drug smuggling by limiting the need for service members to risk their lives to obtain drug evidence
from the vessels.
“This law does a great job of responding to new tactics being employed by drug smugglers, and I have no
doubt that it will be very effective in helping the Coast
Guard keep drugs from getting to shore and onto our
streets,” Cummings said.
He suspects that drug smugglers already are worried
about the law, but “these criminals are constantly
changing their tactics to get drugs to our shores and it
will only be a matter of time before we see some new
innovation — which is why it is critical to identify new
tactics as they emerge and adjust our intervention
methods and laws accordingly.”
Lt. Cmdr. John Mixson, a C-130 Hercules pilot at
Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater, Fla., said that
while he has not noticed a change in the number of
semi-submersibles used since the law was passed in
October, he believes its impact might be felt elsewhere
in smuggling operations.
“The Colombians know the stakes are high and they
are already ready to risk their lives.
Hopefully, this law will help deter
them or help deter the ability to
recruit new people,” Mixson said.
Aircrew from Air Station Clearwater, which has personnel forward
deployed to Manta, Ecuador, spotted several of the semi-submersibles
the Coast Guard interdicted during
the past few months.
The OPE command post gathers
information on where semi-submersibles may be and dispatch-es pilots from Clearwater to those
areas. The new law allows federal
agents to make arrests in international waters, without treaties or
agreements to operate in other territorial waters, because “there is
extraterritorial federal jurisdiction
over an offense under this section,”
“Drug trafficking organizations
will begin to adapt toward other
methods,” he said, “when they see
that there is no benefit to the very
risky use of semi-submersible vessels to transport cocaine.” ■
U.S. COAST GUARD
More than 7 tons of cocaine sit on the forecastle of the U.S. Coast Guard
Cutter Midgett Sept. 17, 2008, after boarding teams from the ship seized a
self-propelled semi-submersible vessel that was carrying it and apprehended
its four crew members near Guatemala.