As border patrol agents have become increasingly effective at preventing drug smugglers from using land ports of entry, these criminals have been using alternate methods to bring illicit narcotics into the country. US law enforcement agencies are well aware of these efforts and use significant resources to disrupt them.
US Customs and Border Protection, Office of Air and Marine (OAM) maintains a fleet of P-3 Long Range Tracker aircraft based in Jacksonville, Florida and Corpus Christi, Texas to identify suspicious boats. The crew of one of these planes identified a suspicious vessel off the Panamanian coast on March 12, 2015.
Multi-agency collaboration is essential to bringing drug traffickers to justice when they operate in international waters. Fortunately, the US is part of Operation Martillo—a 15-country effort that counters transnational illicit trafficking and organized crime along the waters of Central America.
After sighting the suspicious vessel, border patrol agents contacted Panamanian authorities who arranged for their law enforcement officers to intercept the vessel. While the border patrol agents monitored the offensive from the air, the Panamanians boarded the boat. They found 1,873 pounds of cocaine on the boat valued at $140 million, along with $20,000 in cash and nine individuals who were subsequently arrested.
This was only one of a number of successful missions sponsored by the OAM. These P-3 aircraft play an integral role in counter-narcotic missions. They patrol 42 million square miles of the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, Pacific Ocean, and seaboard approaches to the US. In fiscal year 2014, these planes helped keep almost $9.5 billion worth of cocaine from reaching the US.
The national Joint Interagency Task Force South coordinates with the border patrol’s OAM and helps keep significant amounts of illicit narcotics from ever reaching American shores.