Port Angeles-based cutter makes second big marijuana bust in two weeks
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Petty Officer 3rd Class Connie Gawrelli/ U.S. Coast Guard
Several bales of marijuana seized from a panga sit on the deck of the Coast Guard cutter Edisto before being transferred to the San Diego Marine Task Force at Naval Base Point Loma on Wednesday. The 30-foot panga was intercepted approximately 155 miles south of San Diego.

By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News

SAN DIEGO — A Coast Guard helicopter launched from the Port Angeles-based cutter Active used gunfire to stop a suspected smuggling boat carrying 7,100 pounds of marijuana off the coast of Mexico earlier this week.

The seizure of the drugs, boat and three suspected smugglers about 155 miles southwest of San Diego early Tuesday morning is the second in which the crew of the Active has assisted in as many weeks.

Crew members in a small interceptor boat chased down a similar boat suspected of being used to smuggle 5,000 pounds of marijuana 140 miles off San Diego on Dec. 2, leading to the arrest of two suspected smugglers.

Fishing boat spotted

In the Tuesday morning encounter, a Coast Guard HC-130 Hercules patrol plane spotted a 30-foot “panga”-style fishing boat traveling in international waters, accord to the Coast Guard.

The 210-foot Active plus the 269-foot cutter Edisto and a 45-foot response boat, both based in San Diego, were sent to investigate the fishing boat and chased it briefly after it refused orders to stop, the Coast Guard said.

“The point of departure was most likely from Mexico,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Henry Dunphy, a Coast Guard spokesman based in San Diego.

Dunphy said Coast Guard crews were able to see multiple packages on board the fishing boat “that looked typical of a smuggling vessel.”

Helicopter launch

An MH-65C Dolphin helicopter launched from the Active pursued the fishing boat, with the helicopter crew disabling the boat's engine with gunfire after additional orders to stop went unheeded, Dunphy said.

The boat was stopped by about 12:30 Tuesday afternoon, Dunphy added.

Three Mexican citizens, 74 bales of marijuana and the boat were taken to San Diego and turned over to the San Diego Marine Task Force, which includes federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, according to the Coast Guard.

More than 6 tons

Tuesday's marijuana seizure makes roughly 13,100 pounds of the drug taken from fishing boats in the same area this month, both incidents involving the crew of the Active.

The Active patrols anywhere from the waters off South America north to Alaska, Dunphy said, and is deployed for missions including search and rescue, law enforcement and homeland security.

The Active's typical patrol length is 45 to 55 days, Dunphy added.

The cutter and its 75-member crew were honored with a golden snowflake decal in 2001 after the ship was involved in the seizure of 13 tons of cocaine from the 152-foot Svesda Maru fishing vessel 1,700 miles south of San Diego, according to Peninsula Daily New archives.

The drug bust was reported then as the largest cocaine seizure in maritime history.

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Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at jschwartz@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: December 12. 2013 5:49PM
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