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Frigate saves lives while pursuing anti-drug mission

Oct. 27, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Sailors and Coast Guard members aboard the frigate Rentz assist the crew of fishing boat adrift at sea for 10 days off the coast of Ecuador.
Sailors and Coast Guard members aboard the frigate Rentz assist the crew of fishing boat adrift at sea for 10 days off the coast of Ecuador. (Navy)
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October was a big month for the San Diego-based frigate Rentz and its onboard Coast Guard law enforcement detachment, who in a two-week period rescued a fishing vessel stranded for 10 days and intercepted $80 million worth of cocaine.

The 195-person crew is patrolling the Navy’s 4th Fleet area of responsibility off the coast of Central America as part of Operation Martillo, a joint effort that translates to Operation Hammer and involves teaming with local navies to combat drug smuggling.

Rentz made the $80-million bust Oct. 9, after the crew confirmed the location of a ship carrying a ton of cocaine, which the Colombian navy intercepted and detained.

So far, Operation Martillo has collected and disposed of 318,133 pounds of cocaine and 25,052 pounds of marijuana, worth an estimated $40 billion, since the operation began in January 2012, according to a Navy news release.

Little more than a week after the cocaine bust, Rentz’s crew rescued five Ecuadorian nationals whose fishing vessel had been stranded at sea for 10 days.

Heavy weather had disoriented the men, throwing them 100 nautical miles off course, where they ran out of fuel and subsisted on bananas until the lookouts on the Rentz spotted them the morning of Oct. 20.

The rescue team launched a rigid-hull inflatable boat to investigate the situation. They provided the crew MREs and enough fuel to get them back home.

Though Operation Martillo has a primarily counternarcotics mission, Cmdr. Lance Lantier, Rentz’s commanding officer, explained that search-and-rescue operations are still part of their mandate.

Lantier told Navy Times a key to the mission is teamwork with foreign allies.

“During this deployment, we have seen British, Chilean and Canadian navy participation, in addition to [U.S. Coast Guard] assets, maritime patrol aircraft and partner nations, such as Colombia, with whom we coordinated to achieve the endgame on Oct. 9.”

A south Florida-based Coast Guard LEDET has been aboard Rentz for about a month, Lantier said, the second set of Coasties he’s worked with since his ship deployed in July.

“They are experts in the law enforcement and detainee handling procedures, highly specialized in their training, and proficient in the skills of contraband search,” he said. “Additionally, the Coast Guard brings a level of search and rescue expertise that is a well-oiled machine.”

Rentz will continue its patrols as part of Operation Martillo until January, returning home to San Diego before it is decommissioned in May.

Martillo will continue until it is deemed no longer effective, said 4th Fleet spokesman Cmdr. Corey Barker, “and so far it has been extremely, extremely effective.”

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