The Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) in Kingstown has launched an investigation after a Vincentian-owned and registered fishing boat was nabbed with 4.2 tonnes (9,259.42 lbs) of cocaine on board.
The United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) estimates that the drug has a wholesale value of US$125 million.
The 70-foot vessel, “Lady Michelle”, had been leased out.
During a Feb. 16 operation, the U.S. Coastguard boarded the vessel north of Paramaribo, Suriname’s capital city, in international waters, with the cocaine on board.
A crewmember initially lied and said that he and he and his crew had been searching for a missing vessel and that Lady Michelle was registered in Guyana.
But authorities in St. Vincent and the Grenadines confirmed that the vessel was registered there and gave permission for U.S. law enforcement agents to board it, in keeping with a bilateral agreement in the fight against drug trafficking.
U.S. law enforcement officials have said that the fishing vessel was found on a route usually used by drug traffickers who take South American cocaine to the Caribbean, the United States, and other countries.
“The vessel that was later identified as the Lady Michelle appeared to be dead-in-the-water and was also in water too deep to conduct normal fishing operations. The vessel was also located in a known drug trafficking route.
The Coast Guard boarding team detained the four crewmembers and found bales that tested positive for cocaine.
The vessel has been returned to the owner in Kingstown, but the FIU has opened an investigation, law enforcement sources have told iWitness News.
Meanwhile, four Guyanese, who were caught aboard the fishing vessel have been held in connection with the drugs.
They are Mohamed Nazim Hoseain,64, Richard La Cruz, 49, Neville Jeffrey, 68, and 30-year old Mark Anthony Williams.
“Crew members typically serve as couriers to assist in loading and offloading of the contraband. Their purpose on the vessel is to perform that task,” said U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) Special Agent, Jeremy Latchman in court papers seen, according to Guyana’s Demerara Waves Online News.
This interdiction is the largest maritime seizure in the Atlantic since 1999.
During the night of Feb. 16, the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Joseph Napier detected and interdicted a suspicious fishing vessel in international waters north of Paramaribo, Suriname, in the Atlantic Ocean.
The contraband was transported to Puerto Rico, where it was disembarked and placed in the custody of DEA, Caribbean Division special agents for processing and disposition.
“The excellent coordination between the U.S. Coast Guard, and international law enforcement agencies prevented this major drug shipment from reaching our communities,” said Capt. Robert W. Warren, Coast Guard Sector San Juan commander. “We appreciate our continued partnerships with the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard and St. Vincent Coast Guard. Our collective efforts are working to secure our region’s maritime borders and protect our citizens from this threat.”
“As the cocaine flow from South America continues to increase, law enforcement partners in the Eastern Caribbean Region have to increase our collaborative efforts in order to effectively respond to the threat,” said James Doby, Assistant Special Agent in Charge (ASAC) DEA Caribbean Division. “Such collaborative efforts are currently underway in the Caribbean Corridor Strike Force, where law enforcement partners are collocated every day.”