HMCS Nanaimo intercepts hundreds of kg of cocaine off the coast of Mexico

A sailor in an inflatable boat tosses a bag to sailors in another boat near by.
Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship NANAIMO collaborates with members of a United States Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment to conduct a boarding on a Target of Interest (TOI) during Operation CARIBBE on October 31, 2017. Image By; MARPAC Imaging Services XC05-2017-0015-008

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By: The Executive Officer of HMCS Nanaimo, Operation CARIBBE

Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Nanaimo and an embarked U.S. Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment (LEDET) conducted their first drug seizure together on October 30, 2017. Their combined actions eliminated an estimated 680 kilograms of cocaine from circulation off of the coast of Mexico.

The haul was intercepted by HMCS Nanaimo as it executed its counterdrug mission in the eastern Pacific Ocean. This mission, known as Operation CARIBBE, is the CAF support to the multi-lateral mission known as Operation MARTILLO. In the expanse of Canada’s ongoing engagement in Operation MARTILLO, Nanaimo falls under the operational control of Joint Interagency Task Force South (JIATFS). JIATFS’s, and by extension Nanaimo’s, purpose is to support multinational efforts to address illicit trafficking by providing naval capabilities to detect and monitor suspect activities on the water off the Pacific coast of Central America. During the law enforcement phase of the counter-smuggling mission — the actual interception, boarding and seizure of contraband — Nanaimo’s operational control shifts to the U.S. Coast Guard’s 11th District.

In the October 30 operation, the Nanaimo pursued the vessel with the aid of a Maritime Patrol Aircraft. Under heavy rain, the crew onboard HMCS Nanaimo intercepted the panga type-vessel carrying an estimated 680 kilograms of cocaine. The LEDET seized approximately 478 kg of cocaine packaged in small quantities and stored throughout the vessel. The 200 kg cocaine balance was onboard but could not be seized prior to the sinking of the vessel and three suspects were later transferred to a United States Coast Guard cutter.

Market prices vary but the United States Coast Guard sources value the interdicted cocaine at approximately $33,000 (USD) per kilogram. Making the street value of the cocaine disruption by Nanaimo an estimated $22 million (USD). Interdictions such as this help to remove operating funds from the pockets of trans-national criminal organisations.

This type of experience is new for many of the sailors of the Royal Canadian Navy and was an exciting event for the ship’s company. Even to the more seasoned sailors in Nanaimo, evolutions like this never lose their edge. A senior member of the LEDET, who has participated in over a dozen such boardings, reflected, “The excitement of the boardings and busts never decreases because the environment and vessels are always changing.”

Since commencing operations in the Eastern Pacific, Nanaimo had been poised to investigate several small craft, either fishing vessels or pangas, suspected of attempting to smuggle drugs into Mexico from various South American points of origin. Pangas are somewhat unique vessels to this area of the world. They are relatively small open-hulled vessels, approximately 30 feet in length with large powerful outboard motors capable of transiting at speeds of 30-40 knots (55-75 km/h). Many of them are hand built or in the case of some used for drug smuggling, purpose-built with inlaid compartments and holds.

When asked about the impact he felt this drug bust had, the Commanding Officer of the Nanaimo stated, “Beyond the mere interdiction of illegal narcotics, this event signals the commitment of our nation to assist with the development of regional stability and the furtherance of the rule of law by interrupting the resource flows that criminal elements need to maintain and expand their regional and hemispheric influence.”

Given the immense profits that can be gained from just one load of cocaine smuggled by a small boat, as well as the growing trend of smuggling by sea, the Canadian contribution to regional efforts to control and disrupt drug trafficking and organized crime in South and Central America can be significant.

Image gallery

  • Sailors on a ship transfer seized narcotics to an inflatable boat.
  • Sailors brief Command on the off-load of drugs in torrential rain
  • A sailor in an inflatable boat tosses a bag to sailors in another boat near by.
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