USCGC Northland (WMEC 904) returned to Portsmouth Monday, following an 80-day patrol in the Eastern Pacific Ocean in support of the Coast Guard Eleventh District and Joint Interagency Task Force South.
The Northland’s crew patrolled the Eastern Pacific performing counter-drug operations with the support of an aviation detachment from the U.S. Coast Guard Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron flying an MH-65 Dolphin Helicopter. In addition to Northland’s HITRON detachment, aircraft crews from the U.S. Navy and Customs and Border Protection provided critical aerial surveillance and reconnaissance for the cutter throughout the patrol.
During the patrol, Northland successfully interdicted several suspected drug smuggling vessels. On Sept. 8, the cutter pulled into U.S. Coast Guard Base Miami Beach and offloaded 7,833 pounds of cocaine with an estimated street value of $148 million. The cutter crew also transferred three suspected narcotics smugglers to Coast Guard Seventh District and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration personnel, signaling the culmination of a successful joint interagency effort in the Eastern Pacific.
Aside from successfully interdicting suspected drug smuggling vessels, Northland maintained a maritime assistance presence in the region throughout the patrol. On Aug. 11, the Coast Guard Eleventh District relayed an alert from the Maritime Rescue Coordination Center Costa Rica reporting the fishing vessel Baula X on fire with three mariners trapped aboard. On Aug. 18, Northland launched the Dolphin crew in search of the boat. Upon successfully locating the burning fishing vessel, the helicopter crew guided Northland’s small boat team to the location. They safely rescued the three fishers and delivered them to the nearby cargo vessel Avra GR, participating in the Automated Mutual-Assistance Vessel Rescue program.
When not actively chasing drug runners or rescuing fishers, Northland maintained a steady training regimen for new and veteran crewmembers on navigation, engineering, and nautical activities. Training for emergencies and routine operations is critical to sustaining Northland’s peak mission effectiveness and is in keeping with the Coast Guard’s motto, Semper Paratus – Always Ready.
“During this patrol, our crew showed terrific adaptability when responding to equipment malfunctions, scheduling changes, issues spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic, and a litany of other challenges faced. Throughout all of this, the crew displayed tremendous determination and teamwork, resulting in multiple mission accomplishments. I am extremely proud of the effort put forth by Northland, our embarked aviation detachment, and all of the support elements that worked to ensure our safety and success throughout,” Cmdr. Patricia M. Bennett, Northland’s commanding officer.
On Apr. 1, 2020, U.S. Southern Command increased counter-narcotics operations in the Western Hemisphere to disrupt the flow of drugs. Numerous U.S. agencies from the Departments of Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security cooperated to combat transnational organized crime. The Coast Guard, Navy, Customs and Border Protection, FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and allied and international partner agencies play a role in counter-drug operations.
The fight against drug cartels in the Eastern Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea requires unity of effort in all phases from detection, monitoring, and interdictions, to criminal prosecutions for these interdictions by United States Attorney’s Offices from the Middle District of Florida, the Southern District of Florida and the Southern District of California. The law enforcement phase of counter-smuggling operations in the Eastern Pacific Ocean is conducted under the authority of the Coast Guard Eleventh District, headquartered in Alameda. The interdictions, including the actual boardings, are led and conducted by U.S. Coast Guard members.
USCGC Northland is a 270-foot Famous-class medium endurance cutter homeported in Portsmouth. The crew routinely deploys in support of counter-drug, migrant interdiction, fisheries, search and rescue, and homeland security missions.