Posted: December 9, 2016 2:22 PM

Canada’s Navy Marks 10 Years Aiding U.S. Counter-drug Mission

By DAVE PUGLIESE, Special Correspondent

Placeholder imageVICTORIA, British Columbia — The Royal Canadian Navy is marking the 10th anniversary of its participation in a U.S.-led counter-drug mission in the Caribbean Sea and elsewhere, citing the seizure of more than 66 tons of cocaine during that time as a sign of its success.

In addition to the cocaine, Canadian naval forces, backed by the Royal Canadian Air Force, have helped seize more than four tons of marijuana during that period, Royal Canadian Navy officers say.

Canada joined Operation Martillo, led by the U.S. Coast Guard on behalf of Commander, U.S. Southern Command, in 2006. But in 2014 the U.S. military reduced its contribution to the task force because of ongoing defense cutbacks and requested the Royal Canadian Navy increase its participation.

That year, the Canadian Forces deployed nine ships and a CP-140 long-range surveillance aircraft to the operation, dubbed Operation Caribbe. In 2015, that was increased to 10 ships and four aircraft. In 2016, seven Royal Canadian Navy ships and one Royal Canadian Air Force CP-140 took part in the mission.

The Royal Canadian Navy said in 2016 Canadian military assets took part in the seizure of 12,676 pounds of cocaine and 3,350 pounds of marijuana.

The interdiction missions are conducted in the Caribbean Sea, the eastern Pacific Ocean and off the coast of Central America.

The latest seizures were the result of a series of interdiction actions Nov. 15-18 involving a RCN maritime coastal defense vessel, HMCS Edmonton, and U.S. Coast Guard aircraft and personnel in the Pacific Ocean off Central America. The combined weight of the disrupted drug shipments, confirmed to be cocaine, was an estimated 4,675 pounds.

Most of the cocaine was recovered from the ocean after being jettisoned by suspected smugglers in panga-style fishing vessels, according to the Royal Canadian Navy. In all cases, a U.S. Coast Guard aircraft provided observation and vectoring information to teams deployed in rigid-hulled inflatable boats, and U.S. Coast Guard cutters served to house and transport the suspected smugglers who were apprehended, added the Royal Canadian Navy.

In total, 32 bales of cocaine were recovered. A total of seven suspected smugglers also were apprehended by the U.S. Coast Guard. During this series of interdictions, U.S. Coast Guard HC-130J fixed-wing aircraft and MH-65 helicopters were involved. U.S. Coast Guard personnel are also assigned to the Canadian warship.

Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, who before entering politics was a police officer in Vancouver, congratulated the forces involved for the 10 years of ongoing operations. He said in his job as a police officer he has seen first-hand the harm done by drug trafficking. “Every disruption to the flow of illicit drugs off the coasts of Central and South America means a loss to the organized crime organizations that intend to distribute these drugs in North America,” Sajjan said.

Rear Adm. Todd Sokalzuk, commander of the U.S. Coast Guard's 11th District, Eastern Pacific Region, noted the close cooperation between Canadian maritime forces and his staff. “This year, and for the past decade, our Coast Guard law enforcement teams have meshed seamlessly with Royal Canadian Navy crews to perform arduous patrols in drug transit zones that result in the seizure of tons of cocaine and apprehension of scores of suspected smugglers,” he said in a statement. “I'm extremely proud of these front-line crews who deny transnational criminal smuggling organizations billions of dollars in resources and may help curtail the thousands of cocaine related deaths reported each year.”

During the last decade, the Royal Canadian Navy deployed ships and submarines 63 times and sailed for a total of 1,881 days in direct support of the counter-drug mission. The Royal Canadian Air Force deployed its CP-140 Aurora long-range patrol aircraft 39 times and flew a total of 2,138 hours, providing surveillance, detection and disruption capabilities.

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