USS Nicholas, U.S. Coast Guard Intercept Drug Trafficking Vessel

USS Nicholas, U.S. Coast Guard Intercept Drug Trafficking Vessel

Guided-missile frigate USS Nicholas (FFG 47) with an embarked U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Law Enforcement Detachment Team (LEDET) employed airborne use of force (AUF) to stop a vessel suspected of transporting illegal drugs, June 19 in support of Operation Martillo.

The interdiction operation recovered 275 pounds of marijuana and 500 pounds of cocaine; a combined wholesale value of more than $6 million.

“This interdiction is a clear example of our commitment to produce a safer and more secure region where criminal organizations no longer wield the power to destabilize governments,” said Rear Adm. Sinclair Harris, commander, U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command and U.S. 4th Fleet (COMUSNAVSO/C4F). “These organizations threaten national and regional security and public safety, so we need to prevent the entry and spread of illicit drugs, violence, and transnational threats to countries throughout the region and to the United States.”

A U.S. Navy P-3 Orion initially detected the speedboat. The drug traffickers then began to jettison the contraband when the P-3 turned over tracking of the speedboat to Nicholas while USCG District Eleven assumed control of the interdiction effort.

An embarked SH-60 helicopter was launched with an AUF gunner on board to intercept the speedboat and mark the debris field with a smoke float. In an attempt to get the vessel to stop, the gunner fired warning shots across the bow and aft of the speedboat. When the vessel did not stop, the gunner fired disabling rounds, bringing the speedboat to a stop.

Nicholas then launched a rigid-hull inflatable boat with Coast Guardsmen from the LEDET and seized the speedboat.

“More than 80 percent of the narcotics entering Central America and largely transiting through Mexico on their way to U.S. markets enter via maritime littoral routes; with the main conveyance being “go-fast” boats,” said Harris. “By teaming up with our partner nations and allied forces to scrutinize the littorals, we will deny transnational organized crime networks these routes.”

Operation Martillo (Spanish for ‘hammer’) is a U.S., European, and Western Hemisphere partner nation effort targeting illicit trafficking routes in coastal waters along the Central American isthmus. This joint service, interagency, and multinational operation is being led by Joint Interagency Task Force-South, a National Task Force charged with detection, monitoring, and supporting the interdiction of illicit trafficking in a 42 million square mile area primarily in the U.S. Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM) area of operations. Operation Martillo is a component of the U.S. government’s coordinated interagency regional security strategy in support of the White House strategy to combat transnational organized crime and the U.S. Central America Regional Security Initiative.

COMUSNAVSO/C4F supports USSOUTHCOM joint and combined full-spectrum military operations by providing principally sea-based, forward presence to ensure freedom of maneuver in the maritime domain, to foster and sustain cooperative relationships with international partners and to fully exploit the sea as maneuver space in order to enhance regional security and promote peace, stability, and prosperity in the Caribbean, Central and South American regions.

Naval Today Staff, July 4, 2012; Image: US Navy