The Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf seized two suspected drug smuggling boats, detained four suspected smugglers and recovered a bale of cocaine as evidence after disrupting a major drug smuggling operation in international waters some 80 miles off the coast of Guatemala late Wednesday night.
This seizure is the first drug bust conducted by the crew of the Bertholf. The ship, home ported here and commissioned less than one year ago, is the first of eight planned National Security Cutters being built as part of the Coast Guard's deepwater major-acquisition and modernization program to replace the 378-foot Hamilton-class high endurance cutters which entered service during the 1960s.
"I am proud of the Bertholf's crew and congratulate them on this milestone achievement for the Coast Guard's newest cutter," said Adm. Thad Allen, commandant of the Coast Guard. "The cutter is serving in the Southern approaches to stop the flow of drugs across the Southwest Border along with some of the very Coast Guard ships she was designed to replace -- and she's living up the to a high standard set by her predecessors. The Bertholf's management of this very dynamic law enforcement situation shows the usefulness and importance of launching a new generation of modern, well equipped cutters to protect the American people."
The incident began when a group of four suspicious 'pangas' were spotted by a maritime patrol aircraft and the Bertholf, which was in the area on patrol as part of an ongoing interagency and international counter drug effort, was alerted to the situation. A marksman aboard a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter, operating from the cutter, shot out the engines of two speedboats and fired warning shots at two others in a pursuit during which bales were seen being thrown overboard from all four boats. The seized boats and suspects were apprehended a short time later by crews aboard two of the Bertholf's interceptor boats.
A search for additional jettisoned bales is on-going. The four apprehended individuals and evidence are being detained aboard the Bertholf until final disposition of the case can be determined. The Coast Guard worked closely with Guatemalan officials during the interdiction.