The US Coast Guard seized a record $1 billion worth of heroin and cocaine over a four-month period, providing further evidence that maritime drug trafficking in Latin America is seeing a resurgence.
The Coast Guard's record haul included 32 tons of cocaine and two tons of heroin seized during operations that ran from April to July, reported Reuters. Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Paul Zukunft said more narcotics have been seized off the coast of Mexico and Central America during fiscal year 2015 than in the last three years combined.
The Coast Guard mission involved 23 separate interdictions that led to the arrests of over 215 drug traffickers, reported Fox News. This includes one operation in which the Coast Guard seized a self-propelled semi-submersible vessel transiting over eight tons of cocaine off El Salvador's Pacific coast. (See US Coast Guard video below).
In an official statement, Vice Admiral Charles W. Ray noted the importance of the Coast Guard's interdiction efforts in the fight against international drug trafficking and criminal organizations. “Every interception of these semi-submersibles disrupts transnational organized crime networks and helps increase security and stability in the Western Hemisphere,” Ray said.
InSight Crime Analysis
The Coast Guard's record drug haul points to a growing trend in maritime drug trafficking, as aerial and overland routes become more difficult for smugglers to navigate. Drug flights in Colombia and Honduras -- a key producer and transit nation for cocaine, respectively -- have dropped to basically zero, according to authorities, while increased security through Central America and at the US-Mexico border has made overland smuggling operations more risky.
Officials in both the US and Latin America have warned about the resurgence of sea trafficking routes for years. Authorities usually focus their attention on the Caribbean, but the recent eight-ton haul shows that traffickers are also smuggling massive drug shipments through the Pacific. Notably, officials in El Salvador have previously noted an increase in sea trafficking operations as use of overland routes decline.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of the Caribbean
To its credit, the US government has responded by increasing resources for sea interdiction efforts. In January, the United States announced a comprehensive plan to tackle drug trafficking through the Caribbean, the first initiative of its kind. The Coast Guard has also increased patrols in drug smuggling zones along both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts.