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Homeland Security

"Ringmasters" Net Fourth Drug Bust


Story Number: NNS030324-16
Release Date: 3/24/2003 8:16:00 PM

From Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command Public Affairs

EASTERN PACIFIC OCEAN (NNS) -- In late January, Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron Light (HSL) 48 Detachment 2, the "Ringmasters," operating from USS John L. Hall (FFG 32), participated in their fourth counter narcotics bust.

The suspected drug smugglers were attempting to transport contraband cargo to the United States and were detained by the U.S. Coast Guard. HSL-48 and John L. Hall are currently on a routine six-month deployment in the U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command area of responsibility, and are engaged in the detection and monitoring of counter drug activities.

During the late afternoon hours, a maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) spotted a 40-foot "go-fast" speedboat approximately 250 miles from John L. Hall. The MPA unit was only able to track the go-fast contact for a short time, but before checking off station, it passed on a position, course and speed to John L. Hall.

"Our mission was to redetect the go-fast so we could direct our ship in to intercept it," said the HSL-48 aircraft commander assigned to the mission. (Names are being withheld for security reasons.) "The big concern was that by the time we got on-scene, even a minor change in course by the go-fast would increase our search area dramatically, and our chances of finding it at night are much less than during the day."

Venom 512, an SH-60 Seahawk helicopter, was launched after sunset as John L. Hall closed the datum at flank speed to intercept the go-fast track. Thanks to a professionally-developed tactical search plan and a little luck, the crew of Venom 512 was able to locate the go-fast. It had changed course and was greater than 20 miles from its expected position 140 miles from John L. Hall.

"We knew what their last position, course and speed were from the MPA's final report," said the aircraft commander. "The go-fast had indeed changed course and wasn't where we hoped it would be, but we commenced our search toward the direction we thought the go-fast crew might head and found them in a short amount of time."

While covertly monitoring the go-fast on night vision goggles, Venom passed its new position, course and speed to John L. Hall, which adjusted its vector to intercept. A short time later, the crew of Venom directed the now refueled MPA to maintain contact while they returned to John L. Hall for fuel.

Following refueling, Venom 512 was relaunched to covertly direct John L. Hall into a position to dispatch its U.S. Coast Guard law enforcement detachable team (CG LEDET) in a rigid-hull inflatable boat.

The crew of the go-fast had no idea they were being tracked.

Before the drug runners knew what had happened, the CG LEDET had pulled along side the go-fast and ordered them to stop. The suspected drug smugglers pulled scuttling plugs in their hull to let the sea water rush in and sink their boat, but several bales of cocaine, as well as the four suspects, were recovered as the boat's stern sank.

Thanks to John L. Hall's efforts through the night, approximately 80 more bales of cocaine were recovered before the hull of the go-fast sank.

The final tally of this integrated team effort was the apprehension of four suspected drug smugglers and 4,265 pounds of cocaine, with an estimated street value approaching $130 million.

"We definitely feel good about the positive effect that we are having," said one of the crew members involved with the drug bust. "We have stopped 9.5 tons of cocaine from reaching the streets of the U.S. over the last five months. That is 9.5 tons of pure cocaine that would have been 'cut,' or thinned out, with other additives several times over and would have doubled or tripled in quantity before hitting the streets of our cities and neighborhoods.

"This may sound hokey, but it makes us feel good knowing that we are keeping that cocaine from being given to American kids and ruining their lives," said the crew member.

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