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Press Release | Jan. 11, 2024

Coast Guard reports fatality following counter drug mission in Caribbean Sea

MIAMI – A Coast Guard crew’s airborne use of force to stop a non-compliant vessel suspected of smuggling illicit narcotics in the Caribbean Sea resulted in a fatality, Jan. 2, 2024.

Two other suspected smugglers were apprehended and face prosecution in U.S. federal courts by the Department of Justice. The seized contraband, approximately 385 kilograms of cocaine with an estimated wholesale value of $11.1 million, will be transferred ashore at a later date.

On Jan. 1, a U.S. Coast Guard law enforcement detachment deployed aboard a U.S. Navy ship in the Caribbean Sea for a counter drug patrol identified a vessel suspected of smuggling narcotics and attempted to stop the vessel. The vessel failed to stop and Coast Guard District Seven authorized airborne use of force in accordance with policy, including warning shots and disabling fire, for a non-compliant vessel suspected of smuggling illicit narcotics in international waters.

The law enforcement boarding team arrived on scene and identified that one of the crewmembers suffered an injury as a result of the use of force. Navy and Coast Guard members performed first aid and transferred the injured individual to the Navy ship before they were medically evacuated by a Navy helicopter to higher level care ashore in the Dominican Republic. The Coast Guard later received a report from Dominican authorities that the patient, a Dominican national, succumbed to their injuries.

"The critical homeland security missions the Coast Guard conducts every day as America's primary maritime law enforcement agency are inherently dangerous," said Lt. Cmdr. John W. Beal, Coast Guard District Seven public affairs officer. “The Coast Guard takes any loss of life seriously and is working to investigate the incident in accordance with Coast Guard policy.”

Detecting and interdicting illegal drug traffickers on the high seas involves significant interagency and international coordination. Once interdiction becomes imminent, the law enforcement phase of the operation begins and control of the operation shifts to the U.S. Coast Guard throughout the interdiction and apprehension phases. Interdictions in the Caribbean Sea are performed by members of the U.S. Coast Guard under the authority and control of the Coast Guard’s Seventh District, headquartered in Miami.

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