San Diego

'Despite the Danger': US Coast Guard Offloads 18 Tons of Cocaine Seized Across Eastern Pacific

A captain for the U.S. Coast Guard says the crews must overcome many challenges to intercept drug smugglers in the rough, dark seas.

U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) crews offloaded about 18 tons of cocaine seized from across the eastern Pacific Ocean in San Diego Thursday.

Crews used interceptor boats to go after drug smugglers from different parts of south and central America for the past three months. Several suspects were taken into custody to face prosecution in the U.S.

"When they go out at night in rough seas in the dark, they don't know what they're going to face," said commanding officer of USCG Cutter Waesche Capt. James Passarelli. "And despite those fears, despite those challenges, despite the dangers, the crew will take that on."

Crews had mostly finished off-loading an estimated 36,000 pounds of cocaine, valued at more than half a billion dollars, Thursday morning from the Cutter Waesche.

One member of the U.S. Coast Guard, Danielle Sanchez, said this was her first deployment and she was glad to make a difference, she told NBC 7.

"I think it's awesome to see all these drugs, and actually see all the drug smugglers," said Sanchez. "We are the first people on scene with the law enforcement. It's amazing -- I never thought I'd be able to do this."

The Waesche worked along with seven other cutters to make more than 17 drug seizures from March to June 2017, usually in dark, rough waters. The cutters include crews from the U.S. Coast Guard Cutters Waesche, Hamilton, Mohawk, Dependable, Valiant, Active, Campbell and Confidence.

The load of cocaine was seized from 15 interceptions of suspected drug smuggling vessels, known as pangas, along with three cases of seized bales of cocaine dumped by suspected smugglers, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

"Our nation faces significant threats posed by transnational organized crime networks that spread violence and instability throughout the Western Hemisphere," said Capt. Passarelli in a statement. "The crew of Waesche meets those threats head on as far from the U.S. border as possible."

Last year, USCG crews seized more than a record 400,000 pounds of cocaine. They are currently on track to pass that record again this year.

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