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Press Release

United States Coast Guard High-Seas Interdiction Off the Coast of Colombia Results in the Seizure of 973 Kilograms of Cocaine and Arrests of Three South American Nationals Brought to the US Virgin Islands

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Virgin Islands

ST. THOMAS, USVI – U.S. Attorney Gretchen C.F. Shappert announced today that three (3) South American nationals charged by Complaint on August 19, 2021, with possession of cocaine onboard a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States were ordered detained by United States Magistrate Ruth Miller pending trial in this matter.

According to court documents, on July 12, 2021, while on patrol, the United States Coast Guard (USCG) Cutter Mohawk intercepted a low-profile vessel located 125 nautical miles south, southwest of Isla De Molpelo, Colombia. The vessel was in international waters and displayed no signs of nationality. It also exhibited suspicious factors including the low-profile construction, no navigation lights, and operation in a known drug vector. The USCG later determined that the vessel was without nationality, thus subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.

Upon inspection of the low-profile vessel, three occupants were identified as Ignasio Espana, 30, and Jairo Riascos Preciado, 52, both of Columbia, and Nestor Vera Escalante, 41, of Ecuador. The USCG boarding team removed a bale in plain view inside the hull of the vessel. Two presumptive NIK tests were conducted on the recovered bale and yielded a positive reaction for cocaine. Thereafter, a search of the entire low-profile vessel resulted in the seizure of approximately 793 kilograms of suspected cocaine.

This case is being investigated by the USCG and the Drug Enforcement Agency, and prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Delia Smith. The investigation is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) operation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level criminal organizations that threaten the United States using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach. Additional information about the OCDETF Program can be found at

United States Attorney Shappert reminds the public that a criminal complaint is merely a charging document and that all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Updated August 24, 2021

Drug Trafficking