“Caribbean Corridor Initiative" leads to 9 arrests and seizure of 4,488 pounds of cocaine
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico—H. S. GARCIA, the United States Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico, LYDIA ST. JOHN-MELLADO, the Acting Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), JEROME M. HARRIS, the Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), LUIS FRATICELLI, the Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), CAPTAIN JAMES TUNSTALL, the Commander of the U.S. Coast Guard Sector San Juan, and COMMANDER SIM SCHOT, the Commanding Officer of the frigate HRMS Van Amstal of the Royal Netherlands Navy, today announced the seizure of 4,488 pounds of cocaine (2,035 Kilos) on board the Bolivian-flagged vessel M/V Sea Atlantic at approximately 150 nautical miles off the coast of Aruba.
The seizure was the result of the implementation of a new law enforcement initiative called “CARIBBEAN CORRIDOR.” The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Puerto Rico in collaboration with agents of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and law enforcement personnel from the United States Coast Guard, created this multi-agency maritime interdiction effort targeting vessels involved in the transportation of narcotics from South America into Puerto Rico and the Caribbean Region.
The M/V Sea Atlantic, sailing under the Bolivian flag, was intercepted in the Caribbean Region by law enforcement organizations operating as part of the “CARIBBEAN CORRIDOR INITIATIVE.” In the early morning of August 27, the US Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment, permanently stationed onboard the Royal Netherlands Navy Ship, boarded the aforementioned vessel, assisted by a Royal Netherlands Navy Maritime Security Team. During the search of the Sea Atlantic they found sixty-eight (68) bales (approximately 4,488 pounds) of a powdery substance that tested positive for cocaine during a field test. The bales of cocaine were found in a hidden compartment on board the ship.
The crew of the M/V Sea Atlantic was arrested and the ship was escorted to Puerto Rico by the USCG Cutter Vigorous. The following crew members of the M/V Sea Atlantic are now in federal custody:
A criminal complaint was filed by the United States Attorney’s Office charging the nine (9) crew members with one (1) count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine on board a vessel registered in a foreign nation where the flag nation has consented or waived objection to the enforcement of United States law by the United States. The defendants have been charged with violations of Title 46, United States Code Appendix, Sections 1903(a)(c)(1)(C)(f)&(j).
Penalties for the offense alleged in the criminal complaint range from a minimum term of ten (10) years of imprisonment to a maximum of life and fines up to four million dollars ($4,000,000.00).
H.S. GARCIA, the US Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico, made the following statement: “ The US Attorney’s Office is committed to protecting the people of Puerto Rico from drug smuggling organizations operating in the Caribbean Region. We will prosecute aggressively any individual or criminal organization trying to transport narcotics into our island. The “CARIBBEAN CORRIDOR INITIATIVE” is a priority of our office and it counts with the participation of federal law enforcement agencies operating in Puerto Rico.”
“ ICE and the other federal agencies in Operation Caribbean Corridor--DEA, FBI and the U.S. Coast Guard--are working together, efficiently and intelligently to stop the transshipment of drugs and other contraband in the Caribbean Basin,” said LYDIA ST. JOHN-MELLADO, the Special Agent in Charge of ICE investigations in Puerto Rico. “ICE will continue using all its resources to fight and win the war against drugs in this part of the world.”
"U.S. Coast Guard law enforcement detachments have a proud and successful history of intercepting contraband with the Dutch navy in the Caribbean. With the aggressive work of ICE, DEA and the FBI in Operation Caribbean Corridor, our collective resources are maximized as we work together to keep drugs off the streets." Said Captain JAMES TUNSTALL, Commander, USCG, Sector San Juan.
JEROME HARRIS, the Special Agent in Charge of the DEA in the Caribbean added: “Our Dutch counterparts of the Recherche Samenwerkings Team (RST) and the Royal Netherlands Navy are equal partners and an essential component of our Operation Caribbean Corridor strategy. Their active joint participation enhances our drug interdiction effort in the region.”
The public is reminded that an indictment contains only charges and is not evidence of guilt. The defendants are presumed innocent and are entitled to a fair trial and the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
This case was investigated by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the United States Coast Guard, and the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Puerto Rico. The case is being prosecuted by First Assistant US Attorney Rosa E. Rodríguez and AUSA Timothy Henwood.