Inside, the Coast Guard said crewmen found about 17,000 pounds of cocaine, valued at more than $230 million.
United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas Joe Brown said the numbers are “just staggering the amount of drugs coming over.”
Brown said for ten years now, federal prosecutors in the district have worked with the Coast Guard and DEA agents in Dallas to pursue these kinds of cases and file charges against the drug smugglers.
Brown said under the law, the Coast Guard can stop vessels in international waters.
If the ships are unflagged, crewmen can seize any drugs found and prosecute those aboard. However, if the vessel is flying a flag of a sovereign nation, the Coast Guard must ask representatives of that sovereign nation if they can board the vessel and prosecute.
“We always have to provide evidence the drugs were intended to come to the United States,” Brown said.
On Thanksgiving Day in 2016, Coast Guard crews were on routine patrol when they discovered a fishing boat more than one thousand miles west of the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.
Suddenly, those aboard started throwing packages into the ocean, which prosecutors said contained one ton of cocaine.
Seven people — including six Chinese nationals — were arrested and brought to North Texas, marking the first time China allowed its citizens to be prosecuted for this.
Clyde Shelley, Jr. is the Special Agent in Charge of the Dallas DEA, which investigated this case.
“Very significant, it is the first step in cooperation because it was the first time it ever happened,” Shelley said.
The agency said the one ton of cocaine seized in total that day is worth nearly $30 million on the streets of North Texas.
The captain was found guilty and received life in prison and the boat’s engineer received nearly 20 years in prison.
“It may seem harsh, but in the broader picture, we have to move on every single person in the chain of supply,” Brown said.
Five others pleaded guilty.
Officials said when drug trafficking organizations are being pursued by law enforcement, they often dump their load in the middle of the ocean. So, to help them try to recover it at a later date, they often use spot tracers or GPS devices that they attach to the smuggled drugs. They also attach the drugs to buoys so they can easily spot them in the water.
“It is the ultimate in greed,” Shelley said. “They do not want to lose this load.”
The U.S. Attorney said since February of last year, they’ve brought around 300 defendants from foreign countries to Texas to be prosecuted.
“We want the drug dealers to fear United States law enforcement,” Brown said.