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Homeland Security

USS Vandegrift Halts Smuggling in Central America

Navy News Service

Story Number: NNS140625-16
Release Date: 6/25/2014 2:56:00 PM

By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Cory Booth, U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command & U.S. 4th Fleet Public Affairs

PACIFIC OCEAN (NNS) -- The Oliver Hazard Perry-class guided-missile frigate USS Vandegrift (FFG 48) and a U.S. Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment (LEDET), intercepted approximately two tons of cocaine being smuggled aboard two fishing vessels while on routine patrol off the coast of Central America.

The Coast Guard LEDET on board directed the Vandegrift's Visit, Board, Search and Seizure (VBSS) team in boarding the first fishing vessel, finding approximately 1,000 individually wrapped packages of cocaine hidden within the hull of the ship.

'The seamless integration of Vandegrift's crew, air detachment, and Coast Guard LEDET was simply amazing,' said Cmdr. Luis Alva, commanding officer of Vandegrift. 'I am humbled and honored to serve with such an exceptional team.'

Following recovery operations, Vandegrift launched a SH-60B Sea Hawk helicopter, piloted by Sailors from Helicopter Anti-Submarine Light (HSL) Squadron 49 Detachment 3, in search of additional smugglers in the area.

Within 24 hours Vandegrift was underway to another interception and under the guide of the Coast Guard LEDET, stopped another smuggling vessel. Hidden within the hull, the VBSS team discovered 35 large burlap sacks containing substances that tested positive for cocaine.

'After making our first drug seizure of the deployment, our team was able to quickly reset and make a second seizure the very next day,' said Lt. Cmdr. Daryl Robin, executive officer of Vandegrift. 'Back to back busts are rare occurrences, but our team was up for the challenge and performed flawlessly.'

Operation Martillo, a joint operation involving the U.S., European and Western Hemisphere partner-nations, targets illicit trafficking routes in the waters off Central America. U.S. Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM) leads the U.S. military involvement in the Joint Operation Task Force.

Overall Coordination of counter-drug patrols and surveillance in the Eastern Pacific is done by a joint agency task force headquartered in Key West, Florida. U.S. maritime law enforcement and the interdiction phase of operations in the region occurs under the tactical control of the 11th Coast Guard District headquartered in Alameda, California.

The first fishing vessel, which was taking on water with no functioning bilge pumps, was declared unseaworthy and was safely sunk.

Being seaworthy, the second vessel was towed to Costa Rican waters and turned over to the possession of the Costa Rican Coast Guard.

U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command and U.S. 4th Fleet support USSOUTHCOM joint and combined military operations by employing maritime forces in cooperative maritime security operations to maintain access, enhance interoperability and build enduring partnerships in order to enhance regional security and promote peace, stability and prosperity in the Caribbean, Central and South American regions.

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