April 25, 2021 – Coast Guard Cutter Bear (WMEC 901) returned home to Portsmouth Sunday following an 86-day counter-drug patrol in the Eastern Pacific Ocean.
The Bear’s crew interdicted three vessels, seized approximately 8,158 pounds of cocaine, two pounds of methamphetamines, as well as marijuana, worth a combined total of over $140 million, and detained 12 suspected drug smugglers.
The Bear’s crew also coordinated operations with the U.S. Coast Guard’s Tactical Law Enforcement Team South Law Enforcement Detachment (LEDET-108), who were deployed aboard the HMCS Saskatoon, a Kingston-class coastal defense vessel from the Canadian Navy. The collaboration supported LEDET-108’s seizure of an additional 2,866 pounds of cocaine and the detention of three suspected smugglers.
A flight crew and aviation detachment from the Coast Guard’s Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron (HITRON), deployed aboard the Bear for the patrol. HITRON crews specialize in airborne use of force, and are based out of Jacksonville, Florida. The crew of the Bear worked in preparation for the counter-narcotics mission, partaking in numerous flight operations to recertify the flight crew and enhance crew proficiency in shipboard helicopter operations and non-complaint vessel training.
The Bear’s crew departed Portsmouth to conduct joint training exercises with the U.S. Navy on January 31. The Bear supported the Navy’s training exercise while operating off the coast of Virginia and the Carolinas, and the crew took advantage of the unique opportunity to become more proficient at war-time steaming.
U.S. Southern Command began what was then known as Enhanced Counter-Narcotics Operations in the Western Hemisphere to increase drug traffic disruption on April 1, 2020. This counter Transnational Criminal Organizations operational approach, which is now enduring, supports objectives to degrade the capabilities of TCOs and ultimately save lives. With increased presence, collaborative efforts have bolstered support to U.S. and partner nations’ law enforcement agencies by sharing information and intelligence. Key partners have been involved in over 60 percent of drug disruptions since April 2020, an increase of 50 percent from 2019. By strengthening partnerships, we maximize regional coverage and increase effectiveness.
There are numerous U.S. agencies from the Departments of Defense, Justice and Homeland Security cooperating in the effort to combat transnational organized crime. The Coast Guard, Navy, Customs and Border Protection, FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, along with allied and international partner agencies, play a role in counter-drug operations.
The fight against drug cartels in the Eastern Pacific Ocean requires unity of effort in all phases from detection, monitoring and interdictions, to criminal prosecutions by international partners and U.S. Attorneys’ Offices in districts across the nation. The law enforcement phase of counter-smuggling operations in the Eastern Pacific Ocean is conducted under the authority of the 11th Coast Guard District, headquartered in Alameda. The interdictions, including the actual boardings, are led and conducted by members of the U.S. Coast Guard.
“I am extremely proud of this crew and honored to be their commanding officer,” said Cmdr. Jeff Ferlauto, the Bear’s commanding officer. “It’s been an extremely successful deployment and the crew met each challenge head-on. Since our initial transit through the Panama Canal into the Eastern Pacific, this crew dominated! As we get ready for the home stretch, I want to personally thank all the families and friends for their continued support. I realize that our personal lives and our devotion to duty are in constant tension. We have chosen to serve our country and execute missions that take us far from home and require extended absences from our loved ones.”
The Bear is a 270-foot medium-endurance cutter homeported in Portsmouth.