04/24/2007

Coast Guard seizes 40,000 pounds of cocaine

The Associated Press

ALAMEDA, Calif. — The Coast Guard began unloading more than 40,000 pounds of cocaine seized from three ships off the Central American coast, much of it from a single bust considered the largest in U.S. maritime history.

Coast Guard officers had boarded a 330-foot ship heading north off the Pacific coast of Panama last month and discovered about 38,000 pounds of cocaine in two shipping containers, officials said. It was the largest single sea-based seizure of cocaine by a U.S. agency, said Coast Guard Petty Officer Brian Leshak.

Crews unloaded the cocaine Monday at a port in California, along with cocaine from two other busts. In one, also last month off Panama, a Coast Guard cutter chased down a speedboat carrying about 2,000 pounds of cocaine, officials said.

The other bust was in February and involved an Ecuadorian-flagged fishing vessel that allegedly had been loading cocaine into speedboats off Mexico's coast. The fishing vessel's crew set fire to their ship and tried to flee in the speedboats but were caught, the Coast Guard said. About 900 pounds of cocaine were seized there.

The cocaine, with an estimated street value of $500 million, will be turned over the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, which will take the drugs to Miami to be destroyed, Leshak said.

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