JACKONSVILLE, Fla. (AP) — U.S. customs officials helped law enforcement in Panama intercept more than 3,300 pounds of pure cocaine this past weekend.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection crewmembers aboard a P-3 aircraft were patrolling the open waters near Panama City, Panama, Saturday when they detected a speedboat carrying four suspects, fuel barrels and multiple packages, the agency reported.
The crew notified Panama law enforcement and directed three interceptors to the speedboat's location. Panamanian law enforcement fired warning shots, causing the speedboat to stop. The suspected traffickers, all claiming Colombian citizenship, were arrested, and their boat was seized. The fuel barrels were filled with cocaine, an estimated value of more than $242 million.
The U.S. aircraft was patrolling as part of the Joint Interagency Task Force-South Operation Martillo.
"Our air crew agents are protecting our nation's borders by actively patrolling the open waters of the Western Caribbean and Eastern Pacific as part of Operation Martillo," said Douglas Garner, Director of National Air Security Operations Center in Florida.
He said this year, plane operations in Texas and Florida assisted in either the seizure or disruption of more than 54,000 pounds of cocaine. He said that translates to more than $4 billion denied to transnational criminal organizations.
Operation Martillo is designed to stop the flow of illicit trafficking through Central America and its Pacific and Caribbean coasts by disrupting transnational criminal organization's use of coastlines to ferry narcotics, according to CBP. Since its inception last January, Operation Martillo has resulted in more than 400 arrests, the seizure of nearly 200 metric tons of cocaine and the seizure or destruction of more than 100 vessels and aircraft.