The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Steadfast (WMEC 623) and crew returned to homeport, Friday, after a 70-day counternarcotics patrol in the Eastern Pacific.
Steadfast’s crew disrupted the flow of illegal narcotics on three separate occasions during their patrol, preventing a combined total of more than 11,550 pounds of cocaine from reaching the U.S.
The crew steamed more than 16,000 nautical miles conducting training, law enforcement missions, providing search-and-rescue coverage, and conducting helicopter operations while patrolling the waters between their Astoria homeport and the international waters off the coasts of Central and South America.
While patrolling in the Eastern Pacific, June 9, Steadfast’s cutter boat crew detected a suspected narcotics-smuggling panga-style vessel. Coast Guard personnel conducted a boarding on the vessel, resulting in the interdiction of 2,200 pounds of cocaine.
On June 18, Steadfast was notified by a Customs and Border Protection Maritime Patrol Aircraft and crew (MPA) of another suspected narcotics-smuggling vessel. Steadfast personnel launched the helicopter, which was able to visually detect the target. Steadfast’s boarding team interdicted the 50-foot low profile vessel (LPV), a type of vessel specifically designed for avoiding radar detection, which make them difficult to detect. Steadfast personnel were able to interdict and seize 6,864 pounds of cocaine from the vessel.
During routine operations on July 9, Steadfast personnel were notified by MPA crew of a suspected narcotics-smuggling vessel transiting international waters. Steadfast launched a cutter boat with a boarding team and HITRON helicopter and aircrew to interdict the vessel. The target vessel attempted to evade the pursuit crew and began jettisoning suspected packaged narcotics overboard. The gunner aboard the HITRON helicopter used disabling fire to stop the engines of the smuggling vessel, ending the pursuit. Steadfast personnel recovered the jettisoned contraband, resulting in the seizure of another 2,464 pounds of cocaine.
The seized contraband was offloaded in San Diego during Steadfast’s transit home.
The ongoing battle against drug cartels in the Eastern Pacific theater demands united efforts on all fronts. Between initial detection, gathering intelligence, interdiction, and case prosecution, the Coast Guard works closely with partner nations and other U.S. agencies to interrupt the flow of illegal narcotics and chip away at the influence of cartels.
“This patrol marked another epic adventure for the crew of Steadfast,” said Cmdr. Brock Eckel, Steadfast’s commanding officer. “The crew’s teamwork and dedication were key to our operational success and their camaraderie made memories of a lifetime at sea and in exotic foreign ports. In keeping with the traditions of the sea services, I am also proud to have inducted 55 pollywogs into the glorious realm of Neptunus Rex’s Kingdom as Honorable Shellbacks.”
Notably, Steadfast became the second known U.S. military vessel to cross the equator on the 4th of July, earning 55 crew members the title of “Star-Spangled Shellbacks.” Steadfast’s crew was able to participate in a line crossing ceremony that solidified crew camaraderie and upheld the long-practiced traditions of seagoing services.
In addition to the ship’s successes in the counternarcotics arena, Steadfast and crew enjoyed several new and exciting experiences in other areas. During their port call in Panama City, Steadfast crew members spent time bolstering relationships with the Panamanian Navy, participating in a volleyball tournament and a barbeque. One of the ship’s small boat crews also rescued a sea turtle that had been entangled in fishing gear, cutting it free and releasing it back to the sea.
Commissioned in 1968, Steadfast is a 210-foot Reliance-class medium endurance cutter homeported on the Oregon coast. The cutter and crew deploy along the western seaboard from North America to South America conducting missions such as living marine resource law enforcement, counter-narcotics and migrant smuggling, and search-and-rescue operations.