Deep Sea Drug War: Takedowns

PANAMA CITY — Riding off into the sunset, the crew of the Active is on the hunt for drug smugglers.

Below deck, the team is gearing up for what Sean Ryan sees just over the horizon.

He warns the crew of what he suspects is off in the distance, 150 miles off shore.

With military planes in the air, the crew gets word of a possible target. They drop the smaller boat in the water while the cutter ship is still moving.

An armed team sets out for the boat in question. They approach a semi-submersible boat, which is common among smugglers because of its large cargo capacity. %



Once aboard, the tense situation becomes apparent when the Coast Guard uncovers nearly two tons of pure cocaine.

The four suspected smugglers, one from Colombia, three from Equador, are pulled on board the Coast Guard’s ship and held as detainees wearing white Tyvex suits so they stay clean.

A few days later, The Active’s crew teams up with its sister ship, The Alert.

The other ship has also had its own success in the Pacific and brings some of its drugs to The Active to be stored.

Payoffs like these are a morale boost for the crew. It reminds them why they’re out here and what they’re looking for as they see stacks and stacks of cocaine -- another ton and a half -- pulled aboard.

The Alert’s Captain, Tobias Reid, actually grew up in Boston before joining the Coast Guard.

He told us about chasing a smuggler who wouldn’t stop.

“Our helicopters shoot their engines out,” he says. “That’s our primary method [of stopping them] to use the helicopter with a sniper rifle to shoot out the engines.

It isn’t hard to see why the smugglers are willing to run and risk it all, the ships totaled more than three tons of cocaine when it's offloaded in San Diego. That’s worth about $90 million.

“As much as we like to talk about the contraband that’s taken out of the water, that doesn’t matter. What really matters is the people that we’re taking on board,” Captain Reid explained. “That’s what it really is all about. So we can tear down their network.”

Investigators say they’re closing in on that network and hoping each smuggler they bag will bring them closer to the heads of the big cartels.


Boston 25's Blair Miller spent 10 days aboard a U.S. Coast Guard ship in the Pacific Ocean to report this story on how New England crews are being used to combat drug smuggling. This four part series will air as a news special on Boston 25 at 11 p.m. Friday, November 15, 2017.