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Coast Guard teams to rejoin Navy on anti-drug mission

Aug. 4, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
A Coast Guard law enforcement detachment member in Jacksonville, Fla., prepares confiscated drugs for transport. Below, Coast Guardsmen are traveling to the Caribbean aboard the Navy frigate Rentz to conduct counterdrug ops.
A Coast Guard law enforcement detachment member in Jacksonville, Fla., prepares confiscated drugs for transport. Below, Coast Guardsmen are traveling to the Caribbean aboard the Navy frigate Rentz to conduct counterdrug ops. (Coast Guard)
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Coast Guard law enforcement detachments will be back on counterdrug missions with Navy ships by early August, as the frigate Rentz heads back to U.S. Southern Command.

The Navy had dropped its counterdrug ships to zero due to budget cuts. In July, however, Navy officials determined enough money existed to restore one ship.

There will be four LEDET teams on board Rentz as it travels to patrol Central and South America and the Caribbean for a period of six months. There are about eight to 12 people per team.

This mission is a welcome development for the Coast Guard, which had scaled back its air and surface missions by 25 percent due to budget cuts, affecting the counterdrug mission.

The cuts meant fewer ships to SOUTHCOM, Commandant Adm. Bob Papp said during a June interview with Navy Times.

This may be a bad time to scale back on counterdrug operations, according to a report released in late June. Specifically, the Atlantic route is gaining popularity among cocaine smugglers, the 2013 U.N. Office of Drug and Crime, World Drug Report concludes.

The Coast Guard did not provide the number of counterdrug patrols it had eliminated due to budget cuts. In a June interview, Papp declined to say how many cutters were patrolling SOUTHCOM, citing security concerns.

Typically the Navy has up to eight frigates a year supporting Joint Interagency Task Force South’s Operation Martillo, SOUTHCOM’s countertrafficking effort, said Corey Barker, a 4th Fleet spokesman, via email. This year the Navy has had only three frigates on Operation Martillo, and currently it has none in the Eastern Pacific and Caribbean, he said.

Military personnel are not allowed to conduct law enforcement operations, so Navy ships on SOUTHCOM patrols carry Coast Guard LEDETs who take tactical command of the ship when it comes to law enforcement during the drug interdictions.

The reduction in the Navy mission has meant that LEDET teams have had to look for other ways to maintain their quals and training. The Pacific Tactical Law Enforcement Team lost three deployments aboard Navy ships, said Lt. Max Seda, the operations officer for the PACTACLET.

Teams have tried to keep their skills sharp by participating on operations with local Coast Guard units, law enforcement and Department of Homeland Security agencies, explained Chief Maritime Enforcement Specialist Timothy Hughes, also with the PACTACLET.

The teams have continued their partnership with foreign navies, which also deploy vessels to SOUTHCOM.

In early June, for example, a Coast Guard LEDET working aboard a Dutch navy ship in the Caribbean seized more than 1,500 pounds of cocaine, worth about $24 million.

The UNODC report states that drug seizures on the seas are 30 times bigger than seizures of drugs being smuggled by air, and four times bigger than seizures of drugs smuggled by road or train. Although the number of maritime seizures account for only 11 percent of all drug seizures between 1997-2011, the amount of drugs seized on the seas accounts for 41 percent of all drugs seized in that time period, according to the report.

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