SAN DIEGO — Officials announcing a record seizure of cocaine Monday said the haul--13 tons in a trawler crewed by Spanish-speaking Russian and Ukrainian sailors--illustrates some of the latest trends in drug smuggling.
The Coast Guard and other agencies are seeing larger loads, more creative attempts at concealment, crew members from outside South America, and increased use of the Pacific as a drug-running route since interdiction efforts in the Caribbean have increased.
"It's a cat-and-mouse game," said Vice Adm. Ray Riutta, commander of the Coast Guard's Pacific Area. "They're becoming bolder, more desperate."
At 26,397 pounds, the clandestine cache aboard the Svesda Maru, a 152-foot trawler flying the flag of Belize, is the largest drug seizure in maritime history, officials said at a dockside news conference.
The cutter Active towed the trawler to the Coast Guard dock at the 32nd Street Naval Station on Sunday. The trawler had been stopped 1,500 miles south of San Diego under terms of an international drug-fighting agreement.
Officials are exploring whether there is a connection between Russian organized crime and Tijuana's murderous Arellano-Felix drug cartel.
With more than four months remaining in the fiscal year, Coast Guard and Navy interdiction efforts have resulted in the seizure of 110,000 pounds of drugs, approaching the 122,000 pounds seized during the 12 months of the previous fiscal year.
On March 4, another Belize-flagged fishing ship, the Forever My Friend, with 8.8 tons of cocaine, was towed into San Diego after being seized 250 miles west of Acapulco.
Officials believe the Svesda Maru was loaded with cocaine in Colombia and was bound for a clandestine docking in Mexico so that the shipment could continue its journey to the U.S. by truck, car or rail.
Two Russians and 10 Ukrainians were charged with drug smuggling and jailed at the federal prison in downtown San Diego.
Coast Guard officials said trawler crewmen were mightily annoyed when a heavily armed Coast Guard boarding party would not let them continue enjoying the trawler's ample supply of whiskey.
There were some language difficulties between the Coast Guard crew members and the crew of the Svesda Maru, but the whiskey request was easily answered: Nyet.