USCGC Stone (WMSL 758) returned to their homeport in Charleston following a 61-day patrol in the Caribbean Sea and Eastern Pacific Ocean in support of the U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Area, the U.S. Coast Guard’s Joint Interagency Task Force South, and the U.S. Coast Guard Eleventh District.
Stone’s crew successfully interdicted two suspected drug smuggling vessels, recovering approximately 2,246 pounds of cocaine and 4,870 pounds of marijuana with an estimated combined street value of $57.1 million. The cutter’s crew subsequently transferred 20 suspected narcotics smugglers to the Seventh Coast Guard District and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration personnel, signaling the culmination of a successful joint interagency effort in the Eastern Pacific.
The Stone embarked observers from Panama, Costa Rica, Colombia, Ecuador, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to perform joint operations to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing (IUUF) and conduct counter-drug operations off the coast of South America.
An embarked MH-65 helicopter aircrew from the U.S. Coast Guard’s Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron was integral in counter-drug operations. Interagency partners provided additional aerial surveillance and reconnaissance support throughout the patrol.
During the cutter’s port call in Manta, Ecuador, Stone’s commanding officer, Capt. Clinton Carlson, attended an international IUUF symposium with Arthur Young, the embarked National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration enforcement officer, to share experiences and increase awareness of the regional issue. The crew of the Stone also participated in a friendly soccer match with Cuerpo de Guardacostas de la Armada personnel from the local coast guard station while in Manta.
“This is our crew’s first patrol outside of their initial shakedown cruise, and I am extremely proud of the dedication and pride they have shown toward getting qualified to conduct the missions expected of a national security cutter crew,” said Carlson. “Throughout these past months, everyone aboard displayed enthusiasm during the drills we’ve run every week and have proven that through teamwork and a shared understanding of the mission, we can accomplish even the most difficult tasks. I am honored to lead this impressive crew of Coast Guard women and men.”
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 Eleventh Coast Guard District, headquartered in Alameda. The interdictions, including the actual boardings, are led and conducted by U.S. Coast Guard members.
The Stone is the ninth Legend-class national security cutter in the Coast Guard fleet and currently homeports in Charleston, South Carolina. The national security cutters can execute the most challenging national security missions, including support to U.S. combatant commanders.
The Charleston-based Legend-class cutters fall under the command of the U.S. Coast Guard Atlantic Area. Based in Portsmouth, Virginia, U.S. Coast Guard Atlantic Area oversees all Coast Guard operations east of the Rocky Mountains to the Arabian Gulf. In addition to surge operations, they also allocate ships to work with partner commands and deploy to the Caribbean and Eastern Pacific to combat transnational organized crime and illicit maritime activity.