(Screen shot via U.S. Coast Guard video).

The Coast Guard intercepted $17.5 million worth of cocaine in the Caribbean Sea, and then lit the smuggling vessel on fire — and it’s all on video!

The operation resulted in a seizure of 604 kilograms of cocaine and involved Coast Guard members from the USCGC Venturous, a Coast Guard medium endurance cutter stationed in St. Petersburg, Florida. A video of the October 2022 interdiction was posted to the Coast Guard’s official Instagram account earlier this month.

USCGC Venturous was deployed on a counter-narcotics patrol in the Caribbean Sea – south of the U.S. but north of Central America – when the crew was notified by maritime patrol aircraft of a potential target. The crew then launched their USCG Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron aircrew and two cutter small boats with boarding teams.

The vessel failed to stop sailing after the Coast Guard crew verbally and visually signaled and fired warning shots from the HITRON helicopter aircrew. In the video, a crew member aboard the helicopter fired two bursts ahead of the boat’s path. The Coast Guard said the HITRON crew used “disabling fire” to target their outboard engines. 

During the interdiction, “three people onboard were observed throwing packages overboard,” the Coast Guard said in a statement.

When the vessel finally came to a halt, the Venturous boarding team boarded the vessel and recovered 604 kilograms of cocaine worth nearly $17.5 million. In the video, crew members are shown pouring some form of starter fluid before lighting it on fire.

“Upon completion of the law enforcement boarding, the CGC Venturous crew destroyed the smuggling vessel to prevent it from becoming an adrift hazard to navigation for other maritime traffic in the region,” the Coast Guard said. 

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The three suspected smugglers were apprehended and placed in U.S. federal custody. They were prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida and sentenced to eight years in prison for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine.

The Coast Guard’s mission as a law enforcement entity frequently involves drug interdictions in international waters. In 2019, a viral video showed Coasties taking down the so-called “narco sub” with a high seas pursuit in the Pacific Ocean, hundreds of miles west of the Colombia-Ecuador border. During the operation, one of the Coast Guard’s team members jumped aboard the moving submersible and pounded on its hatch until the suspected drug runners emerged.

“The Coast Guard conducts patrols, surveillance, and interdiction operations to stop drug smuggling activities. Their efforts aim to disrupt drug trafficking networks and prevent illegal drugs from reaching U.S. shores,” they wrote in an Instagram post with the video.

The Venturous specifically works with other Caribbean nations to interdict narcotics traffickers as well as rescue and repatriate operations with migrants traveling throughout the Caribbean Sea, the Northern Atlantic Ocean, and the Gulf of Mexico. Since July 2015, the Venturous crew has nabbed thousands of pounds of trafficked cocaine and marijuana and apprehended 950 migrants attempting to enter south Florida and Puerto Rico. The Venturous also works to enforce fishery regulations in the Gulf of Mexico.

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