FIVE persons were arrested when US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigators (HSI) intercepted a Guyana-flagged cargo vessel in the Caribbean Sea, south of Puerto Rico, with 3,500 pounds of marijuana aboard, officials said on Monday.
The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Northland said they acted after detecting a suspicious 68-foot motor vessel transiting the Caribbean Sea with five crew members on board.
At a news conference held in San Juan, Puerto Rico on Monday, US Coast Guard Capt. Robert Warren said the vessel was stopped last week some 200 miles southwest of southern Puerto Rico, near Cabo Rojo, and a boarding team found 3,591 pounds (1,630 kilogrammes) of ganja hidden on the cargo vessel. The haul was estimated to have a street value of US$3.5M.
The individuals on board – Michael Da Costa, Shawn A. Ally, Nolan E. Connelly, Ron D. Griffith and Owen K. Drakes –- have been detained and will be charged for conspiracy to possess a controlled substance on board a vessel, subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.
The Northland handed over the drugs and alleged smugglers to the Customs and Border Protection and to special agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Since October 2013, the Coast Guard has seized 4,341 pounds of marijuana and 17,591 kilogrammes of cocaine during 25 counter-drug interdictions under Operation Unified Resolve, being executed in partnership with regional law enforcement authorities in the Caribbean. The wholesale value of these seizures is worth more than US$444 million.
If convicted, Da Costa, Ally, Connelly, Griffith and Drakes could face a sentence ranging from 10 years to life in prison. Guyana media reports claim the ship was registered to a local businessman, and apparently carried rice between the South American country and Jamaica.
“HSI will continue working with our CCSF partners to investigate and prosecute those who, in flagrant disregard of our laws and way of life, try to smuggle or transport illegal contraband into or outside our area of jurisdiction,” said Angel M. Melendez, special agent in charge of HSI in San Juan.
“This seizure demonstrates what can be accomplished when law enforcement agencies work together with vigilance and a commitment to enforce our nation’s customs laws.”
(Asif Hakim, credits to News America)