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Drugs on board

MARCH 27 — The Coast Guard, working with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, intercepted a cargo ship off Panama last week that was carrying more than 19 tons of cocaine — the largest drug seizure in U.S. maritime history.

“This record-breaking seizure was the result of good actionable intelligence and the closest collaboration amongst our interagency partners through Operation Panama Express,” Coast Guard commandant Adm. Thad Allen says in a news release.

The crews of Coast Guard cutters Hamilton and Sherman intercepted the Panamanian-flagged cargo ship Gatun about 20 miles southwest of Isla de Coiba, the release says. After obtaining permission from Panamanian officials to board the vessel, Coast Guard crews discovered nearly 43,000 pounds of cocaine hidden in two containers on the ship’s deck.

“Mexican drug traffickers were awaiting the arrival of [the cocaine] that is now in the hands of U.S. law enforcement,” DEA administrator Karen P. Tandy says in the release. “This seizure … denied the Mexican drug lords $300 million in drug revenue.”

The 14 Panamanian and Mexican crewmembers aboard Gatun were arrested and transferred to the U.S. for prosecution, according to the release. Previously, the largest cocaine seizure by the Coast Guard was in September 2004 when 30,109 pounds were confiscated from the unflagged vessel Lina Maria.

Jason Fell