Monday, December 17, 2007

Cocaine traffic shifts to Pacific, Guard says


ASTORIA, Ore. -- Coast Guard officials say the bulk of cocaine trafficking over the high seas appears to be shifting from the Caribbean to the Pacific Ocean.

The maritime law enforcement agency nabbed more than 355,000 pounds during the past year, worth an estimated $4.7 billion.

And a recent bust by the Astoria-based Coast Guard cutter Steadfast may have bumped the scales a bit higher.

Crew members seized a Costa Rican fishing vessel and retrieved more than 80 bales of cocaine during a two-month deployment still under way on the Eastern Pacific.

The ship's helicopter crew spotted an 85-foot-long boat Nov. 28, which was reportedly carrying suspicious-looking bags and reversed direction as soon as those aboard noticed the aircraft.

With the helicopter in pursuit, the vessel's crew allegedly began throwing bags and bales of drugs overboard as they sped away from the cutter.

Ultimately, seven people were taken from the vessel and kept aboard the Steadfast that night. Once daylight broke, the Coast Guard seized 81 bales and 49 bricks of cocaine, tipping 4,558 pounds on the scale and carrying an import value of $61 million, according to the agency.

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