Coast Guard’s High-Seas Interdiction Results in 3 Arrests, Seizure of Cocaine

U.S. Coast guard cutter Mohawk. (Coast Guard photo)

Three South American nationals were charged Aug. 19 in District Court with possession of cocaine onboard a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States and were ordered detained by United States Magistrate Ruth Miller pending trial in this matter, U.S. Attorney Gretchen C.F. Shappert announced Tuesday.

According to court documents, on July 12, 2021, United States Coast Guard Cutter Mohawk intercepted a low-profile vessel 125 nautical miles south, southwest of Isla De Molpelo, Colombia. The vessel was in international waters and displayed no signs of nationality. It also exhibited suspicious factors, including the low-profile construction, no navigation lights, and operation in a known drug vector.

The USCG later determined that the vessel was without nationality, thus subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.

Upon inspection of the low-profile vessel, three occupants were identified as Ignasio Espana, 30, and Jairo Riascos Preciado, 52, both of Columbia, and Nestor Vera Escalante, 41, of Ecuador. The USCG boarding team removed a bale in plain view inside the hull of the vessel. Two presumptive NIK tests were conducted on the recovered bale and yielded a positive reaction for cocaine. Thereafter, a search of the entire low-profile vessel resulted in the seizure of approximately 793 kilograms of suspected cocaine.

This case is being investigated by the USCG and the Drug Enforcement Agency, and prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Delia Smith. Shappert said the investigation is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces that identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level criminal organizations that threaten the United States.