Everett warship helps in huge cocaine bust

MIAMI BEACH – The U.S. Coast Guard and a Naval Station Everett frigate seized more than a ton of cocaine from a 40-foot boat off Panama after the boat tried to ram the USS Ford, authorities said Thursday.

Four Colombians were taken into custody on drug-trafficking charges, and 2,200 pounds of cocaine valued at $66 million were seized last week in international waters about 40 miles off Panama.

It was the third time since 1997 that a Naval Station Everett warship has been involved in a major drug bust on the high seas.

In this case, the 40-foot boat Victoria was stopped by the Ford, which carries a Coast Guard detachment, during a multi-agency assignment to intercept drugs originating in South and Central America.

Before Coast Guardsmen boarded the Victoria, it suddenly turned toward the Ford, forcing the warship to take “radical evasive maneuvers” to avoid a collision, authorities said.

Those aboard the Victoria may have been trying to sink the boat. They also pumped water into the engine room in an apparent attempt to sink it, authorities said.

The boat’s master claimed to have 300 pounds of fish on board, but then said the fish had been discarded, according to the Coast Guard. There was no fishing equipment on the Victoria.

Coast Guardsmen found 50 bales of cocaine in a compartment behind a bulkhead that had been freshly painted.

In 1997, the Everett-based destroyer USS Callaghan was involved in a high-seas, high-speed chase with a speedboat that got away after dumping at least 121 bales of cocaine into the ocean about 250 miles off South America. The cocaine weighed 7,260 pounds.

The speedboat had been traveling from the direction of Colombia in an apparent attempt to rendezvous with a larger vessel farther out to sea, officials said.

Although the smaller, faster boat and its crew got away, the Callaghan circled and retrieved the 121 bales of cocaine.

In 2001, the Everett-based frigate USS Rodney M. Davis and the Coast Guard Cutter Active from Port Angeles seized 13 tons of cocaine from a Belize-flagged ship. The bust was hailed then as the largest maritime confiscation of its kind in U.S. history.

The seizure was made about 1,500 miles south of San Diego after a 152-foot fishing vessel caught the attention of the crew aboard the Davis. The ship lacked operable fishing equipment and was outside normal fishing grounds.

U.S. authorities can stop and board vessels on the open ocean if they are not flying a country’s flag, as in this case, authorities said.

Also, most Latin American countries have treaties with the United States that permit boarding and searches of vessels flying their flags in international waters.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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