A "go-fast boat" carrying 533 pounds of cocaine was seized Sunday in the waters between St. Croix and Puerto Rico and two men were arrested, the U.S. Coast Guard reported.
Coast Guard, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations seized the cocaine shipment and boat following an at-sea interdiction 22 nautical miles southeast of Vieques, Puerto Rico, the Coast Guard announced Wednesday.
Raddif Tapia-Rivera and Estevan DeCarlos were charged in a criminal complaint authorized by U.S. Magistrate Marcos E. López with conspiracy to import 242 kilograms of cocaine. The men claimed to be U.S. citizens from Puerto Rico.
Federal law enforcement authorities involved were working in support of the Caribbean Border Interagency Group’s Operation Caribbean Guard and the Caribbean Corridor Strike Force. The seized cocaine shipment was estimated to have a street value of approximately $5.7 million dollars.
“Our effective interagency coordination efforts and aggressive patrolling of international and jurisdictional waters around Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands allow us to successfully interdict these shipments at sea and bring those responsible to justice,” said Capt. Drew W. Pearson, commander of Coast Guard Sector San Juan.
“Our resolve and commitment are unwavering as we stand watch 24/7 to protect the safety and security of the citizens of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands from the threats delivered by the sea,” Pearson continued.
The Coast Guard provided the following narrative events of how the seizure took place: The crew of a U.S. Coast Guard HC-144 Ocean Sentry Maritime Patrol Aircraft from Air Station Miami was on routine patrol late Saturday when it detected a 25-foot go-fast vessel with two outboard engines and two subjects onboard traveling northwest without any navigation lights, approximately 115 nautical miles southeast of Vieques.
Watchstanders at Coast Guard Sector San Juan diverted the Coast Guard Cutter Reef Shark to interdict the suspect vessel. The Custom and Border Patrol Office of Air and Marine operations, along with an Immigration and Customs Enforcement special agent onboard, also responded. A marine unit from the Puerto Rico Police Joint Force for Rapid Actions was alerted and ready to respond in the case the go-fast vessel entered Puerto Rico jurisdictional waters.
The Coast Guard aircraft maintained surveillance as Reef Shark arrived on the scene and intercepted the go-fast vessel, approximately 22 nautical miles southeast of Vieques. Reef Shark’s crew found the suspected illegal drug shipment in plain sight, a total of seven bales, and detained the two suspected smugglers onboard, the Coast Guard said. A further inspection and testing of the suspected drug shipment revealed the contraband to be cocaine, according to the report.
Custody of the two smugglers, the narcotics and the go-fast vessel were transferred by Reef Shark to ICE agents for further investigation and prosecution.
Reef Shark is an 87-foot coastal patrol boat home-ported in San Juan.
Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico, said the operation showed the continued determination to pursue drug traffickers in Caribbean waters.
“The U.S. Attorney’s Office and our law enforcement counterparts remain committed to using every law enforcement tool available to attack these criminal organizations and ensure that drug traffickers and their associates are brought to justice for the damage they inflict on our communities,” she said.