JANUARY 22 – In the middle of the night, the middle of the ocean – almost a thousand miles from Miami, officers with the U.S. Coast Guard spotted something odd: an object traveling at high speeds, skipping over ocean waves.
Turns out, it was a go-fast boat.
At this same time, and in the general vicinity, there was a British Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessel doing a joint operation with a Coast Guard helicopter aboard.
They gave chase. After firing warning shots, the Coast Guard vessel caught up with the go-fast boat and its officers then boarded the tiny vessel.
What they found: 45 bricks of cocaine tightly wrapped in burlap sacks that were labelled “refined sugar” in Spanish. The contraband has been calculated to be a street value in excess of $37 million. Tuesday, local media members watched as Coast Guard officers brought out the cargo; wearing surgical masks, they stacked the cocaine, bale by bale onto pallets.
It’s being called an “historic” mission, not because of the size of the haul but because it was a combined effort of both the U.S. Coast Guard and the British Royal Fleet.
This was the first time a U.S. armed helicopter was launched from a British ship.
“It was a unique and successful mission. We fired warning shots, and they tossed bails” said U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Gabe Somma.
Although both the U.S. Coast Guard and the British Royal Fleet have jointly patrolled the Southern Caribbean for several years, this was the first time they combined physical resources to intercept such a large amount of contraband. The British seagoer Wave Knight is a civilian-manned vessel that is primarily used in order to supply the Royal Navy with fuel. Its other functions are to transport personnel and help patrol Caribbean waters.
Along with the announcement of the apprehension, the Coast Guard also released a 41-second video of the events that took place in the early morning hours – documenting the 25-foot speed boat traveling fast while the helicopter hovered above, shining its spotlight. The brief video also captures the Coast Guard vessel approaching the go-fast boat and then an officer boarding it.
The smugglers were observed tossing several bales of cocaine into the water but all were later retrieved. Initially, the cocaine contraband was loaded onto the British Wave Knight, which was then transferred to the Coast Guard’s Sitkinak, a vessel with about a dozen crew members and fitted with high powered guns and high-end technology satellites. About five days later, the Sitkinak arrived in Miami, where the smugglers were handed over to the awaiting federal law enforcement agents.
Aboard the go-fast boat were four men: Linberto Gallardo-Gonzalez, Uriel Julio Tapia, Miguel Vasquez-Barrios, of Colombia, and Miguel Angel Sori-Ortiz from the Dominican Republic. All four are scheduled to appear in Tampa federal court on federal drug charges.
Last year the U.S. Coast Guard intercepted more than $5 billion worth of contraband on the seas.
If you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135.
Here’s an awesome rockabilly song entitled Bales of Cocaine (I was listening to it as I wrote this article):