Border agents seize $4.2 million in cocaine, notice shifting smuggling patterns

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...
Before you go close icon

US Customs and Border Protection's Air and Marine Operations agents seized 328 pounds of cocaine from a vessel near Puerto Rico on November 15, in what is the latest sign that traffickers may be returning to once popular Caribbean smuggling routes.

A CBP DHC-8 Maritime Patrol Aircraft picked up a small, wooden "yola" vessel traveling eastward about 8 miles west of Desecheo Island, off the western coast of Puerto Rico.

CBP vessels were deployed to intercept the suspect boat, and agents observed two men on board the small wooden ship take packages from a cooler and toss them overboard.

RELATED: Drugs rampant in Argentina

20 PHOTOS
Drugs in Argentina
See Gallery
Drugs in Argentina
Members of Argentinaâs Gendarmerie, which took control of security in parts of Rosario city last year after a spike in violence in drug-infested neighborhoods, patrol the Villa Banana slum in Rosario, Argentina, September 10, 2015. International drug-enforcement officials have taken to calling Rosario "The Tijuana of Argentina" for what it has in common with the Mexican border city used to move cocaine into the United States. Experts say the drug enters Argentina by truck or plane from Andean cocaine-producing countries to the north. The smuggling routes narrow the closer shipments get to Rosario, increasing violent competition among gangs to control the final steps toward the Parana River, which leads south to Buenos Aires and the shipping lanes of the Atlantic. Drug-related killings spiked so high in Rosario last year that federal forces were called in to provide security. To match story ARGENTINA-DRUGS/ Picture taken September 10, 2015. REUTERS/Enrique Marcarian
Members of Argentinaâs Gendarmerie, which took control of security in parts of Rosario city last year after a spike in violence in drug-infested neighborhoods, patrol near the Villa Banana slum in Rosario, Argentina, September 10, 2015. International drug-enforcement officials have taken to calling Rosario "The Tijuana of Argentina" for what it has in common with the Mexican border city used to move cocaine into the United States. Experts say the drug enters Argentina by truck or plane from Andean cocaine-producing countries to the north. The smuggling routes narrow the closer shipments get to Rosario, increasing violent competition among gangs to control the final steps toward the Parana River, which leads south to Buenos Aires and the shipping lanes of the Atlantic. Drug-related killings spiked so high in Rosario last year that federal forces were called in to provide security. To match story ARGENTINA-DRUGS/ Picture taken September 10, 2015. REUTERS/Enrique Marcarian
A member of Argentinaâs Gendarmerie, which took control of security in parts of Rosario city last year after a spike in violence in drug-infested neighborhoods, patrols the Villa Banana slum in Rosario, Argentina, September 10, 2015. International drug-enforcement officials have taken to calling Rosario "The Tijuana of Argentina" for what it has in common with the Mexican border city used to move cocaine into the United States. Experts say the drug enters Argentina by truck or plane from Andean cocaine-producing countries to the north. The smuggling routes narrow the closer shipments get to Rosario, increasing violent competition among gangs to control the final steps toward the Parana River, which leads south to Buenos Aires and the shipping lanes of the Atlantic. Drug-related killings spiked so high in Rosario last year that federal forces were called in to provide security. To match story ARGENTINA-DRUGS/ Picture taken September 10, 2015. REUTERS/Enrique Marcarian
People walk past members of Argentinaâs Gendarmerie, which took control of security in parts of Rosario city last year after a spike in violence in drug-infested neighborhoods, check a car near the Villa Banana slum in Rosario, Argentina, September 10, 2015. International drug-enforcement officials have taken to calling Rosario "The Tijuana of Argentina" for what it has in common with the Mexican border city used to move cocaine into the United States. Experts say the drug enters Argentina by truck or plane from Andean cocaine-producing countries to the north. The smuggling routes narrow the closer shipments get to Rosario, increasing violent competition among gangs to control the final steps toward the Parana River, which leads south to Buenos Aires and the shipping lanes of the Atlantic. Drug-related killings spiked so high in Rosario last year that federal forces were called in to provide security. To match story ARGENTINA-DRUGS/ Picture taken September 10, 2015. REUTERS/Enrique Marcarian
Members of Argentinaâs Gendarmerie, which took control of security in parts of Rosario city last year after a spike in violence in drug-infested neighborhoods, patrol the Villa Banana slum in Rosario, Argentina, September 10, 2015. International drug-enforcement officials have taken to calling Rosario "The Tijuana of Argentina" for what it has in common with the Mexican border city used to move cocaine into the United States. Experts say the drug enters Argentina by truck or plane from Andean cocaine-producing countries to the north. The smuggling routes narrow the closer shipments get to Rosario, increasing violent competition among gangs to control the final steps toward the Parana River, which leads south to Buenos Aires and the shipping lanes of the Atlantic. Drug-related killings spiked so high in Rosario last year that federal forces were called in to provide security. To match story ARGENTINA-DRUGS/ Picture taken September 10, 2015. REUTERS/Enrique Marcarian
An officer from the Argentine Gendarmerie, which took control of security in parts of Rosario city last year after a spike in violence in drug-infested neighborhoods, patrols Villa Banana slum in Rosario, Argentina, September 10, 2015, International drug-enforcement officials have taken to calling Rosario "The Tijuana of Argentina" for what it has in common with the Mexican border city used to move cocaine into the United States. Experts say the drug enters Argentina by truck or plane from Andean cocaine-producing countries to the north. The smuggling routes narrow the closer shipments get to Rosario, increasing violent competition among gangs to control the final steps toward the Parana River, which leads south to Buenos Aires and the shipping lanes of the Atlantic. Drug-related killings spiked so high in Rosario last year that federal forces were called in to provide security. To match story ARGENTINA-DRUGS/ Picture taken September 10, 2015. REUTERS/Enrique Marcarian
Members of Argentinaâs Gendarmerie, which took control of security in parts of Rosario city last year after a spike in violence in drug-infested neighborhoods, check a car near the Villa Banana slum in Rosario, Argentina, September 10, 2015. International drug-enforcement officials have taken to calling Rosario "The Tijuana of Argentina" for what it has in common with the Mexican border city used to move cocaine into the United States. Experts say the drug enters Argentina by truck or plane from Andean cocaine-producing countries to the north. The smuggling routes narrow the closer shipments get to Rosario, increasing violent competition among gangs to control the final steps toward the Parana River, which leads south to Buenos Aires and the shipping lanes of the Atlantic. Drug-related killings spiked so high in Rosario last year that federal forces were called in to provide security. To match story ARGENTINA-DRUGS/ Picture taken September 10, 2015. REUTERS/Enrique Marcarian
Members of Argentinaâs Gendarmerie, which took control of security in parts of Rosario city last year after a spike in violence in drug-infested neighborhoods, patrol the Villa Banana slum in Rosario, Argentina, September 10, 2015. International drug-enforcement officials have taken to calling Rosario "The Tijuana of Argentina" for what it has in common with the Mexican border city used to move cocaine into the United States. Experts say the drug enters Argentina by truck or plane from Andean cocaine-producing countries to the north. The smuggling routes narrow the closer shipments get to Rosario, increasing violent competition among gangs to control the final steps toward the Parana River, which leads south to Buenos Aires and the shipping lanes of the Atlantic. Drug-related killings spiked so high in Rosario last year that federal forces were called in to provide security. To match story ARGENTINA-DRUGS/ Picture taken September 10, 2015. REUTERS/Enrique Marcarian
Members of Argentinaâs Gendarmerie, which took control of security in parts of Rosario city last year after a spike in violence in drug-infested neighborhoods, stand guard next to a person near the Villa Banana slum in Rosario, Argentina September 10, 2015. International drug-enforcement officials have taken to calling Rosario "The Tijuana of Argentina" for what it has in common with the Mexican border city used to move cocaine into the United States. Experts say the drug enters Argentina by truck or plane from Andean cocaine-producing countries to the north. The smuggling routes narrow the closer shipments get to Rosario, increasing violent competition among gangs to control the final steps toward the Parana River, which leads south to Buenos Aires and the shipping lanes of the Atlantic. Drug-related killings spiked so high in Rosario last year that federal forces were called in to provide security. To match story ARGENTINA-DRUGS/ Picture taken September 10, 2015. REUTERS/Enrique Marcarian
Members of the Gendarmerie, which took control of security in parts of Rosario city last year after a spike in violence in drug-infested neighbourhoods, patrol the Villa Banana slum in Rosario, Argentina, September 10, 2015. The local morgue reports a fall in homicides since April 2014, when the government sent its Gendarmerie to Rosario to provide law and order in poorer areas of the city. Picture taken September 10, 2015. REUTERS/Enrique Marcarian
Members of the Gendarmerie, which took control of security in parts of Rosario city last year after a spike in violence in drug-infested neighbourhoods, patrol the Villa Banana slum in Rosario, Argentina, September 10, 2015. The local morgue reports a fall in homicides since April 2014, when the government sent its Gendarmerie to Rosario to provide law and order in poorer areas of the city. Picture taken September 10, 2015. REUTERS/Enrique Marcarian
Members of the Gendarmerie, which took control of security in parts of Rosario city last year after a spike in violence in drug-infested neighbourhoods, restrain a person near the Villa Banana slum in Rosario, Argentina, September 10, 2015. The local morgue reports a fall in homicides since April 2014, when the government sent its Gendarmerie to Rosario to provide law and order in poorer areas of the city. Picture taken September 10, 2015. REUTERS/Enrique Marcarian
Members of the Gendarmerie, which took control of security in parts of Rosario city last year after a spike in violence in drug-infested neighbourhoods, patrol the Villa Banana slum in Rosario, Argentina, September 10, 2015. The local morgue reports a fall in homicides since April 2014, when the government sent its Gendarmerie to Rosario to provide law and order in poorer areas of the city. Picture taken September 10, 2015. REUTERS/Enrique Marcarian
Members of the Gendarmerie, which took control of security in parts of Rosario city last year after a spike in violence in drug-infested neighbourhoods, patrol the Villa Banana slum in Rosario, Argentina, September 10, 2015. The local morgue reports a fall in homicides since April 2014, when the government sent its Gendarmerie to Rosario to provide law and order in poorer areas of the city. Picture taken September 10, 2015. REUTERS/Enrique Marcarian
Members of the Gendarmerie, which took control of security in parts of Rosario city last year after a spike in violence in drug-infested neighbourhoods, patrol the Villa Banana slum in Rosario, Argentina, September 10, 2015. The local morgue reports a fall in homicides since April 2014, when the government sent its Gendarmerie to Rosario to provide law and order in poorer areas of the city. Picture taken September 10, 2015. REUTERS/Enrique Marcarian
Members of the Gendarmerie, which took control of security in parts of Rosario city last year after a spike in violence in drug-infested neighbourhoods, patrol the Villa Banana slum in Rosario, Argentina, September 10, 2015. The local morgue reports a fall in homicides since April 2014, when the government sent its Gendarmerie to Rosario to provide law and order in poorer areas of the city. Picture taken September 10, 2015. REUTERS/Enrique Marcarian
Members of the Gendarmerie, which took control of security in parts of Rosario city last year after a spike in violence in drug-infested neighbourhoods, patrol the Villa Banana slum in Rosario, Argentina, September 10, 2015. The local morgue reports a fall in homicides since April 2014, when the government sent its Gendarmerie to Rosario to provide law and order in poorer areas of the city. Picture taken September 10, 2015. REUTERS/Enrique Marcarian
Members of the Gendarmerie, which took control of security in parts of Rosario city last year after a spike in violence in drug-infested neighbourhoods, frisk a person near the Villa Banana slum in Rosario, Argentina, September 10, 2015. The local morgue reports a fall in homicides since April 2014, when the government sent its Gendarmerie to Rosario to provide law and order in poorer areas of the city. Picture taken September 10, 2015. REUTERS/Enrique Marcarian
Members of the Gendarmerie, which took control of security in parts of Rosario city last year after a spike in violence in drug-infested neighbourhoods, patrol the Villa Banana slum in Rosario, Argentina, September 10, 2015. The local morgue reports a fall in homicides since April 2014, when the government sent its Gendarmerie to Rosario to provide law and order in poorer areas of the city. Picture taken September 10, 2015. REUTERS/Enrique Marcarian
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION +
HIDE CAPTION

Agents reached the vessel and arrested the two men. A search uncovered two compartments on the boat loaded with bricks of what tested positive for cocaine.

Agents also recovered the two bricks thrown into the water, and the total haul amounted to 328 pounds of cocaine with an estimated value of $4.2 million.

This seizure comes less than a month after CBP agents intercepted a similar vessel near Puerto Rico carrying 283 pounds of cocaine worth $3.6 million, and the two incidents appear to be the latest high-value seizure events.

Drug-smuggling routes through the Caribbean and into the southeastern US — South Florida in particular — were heavily trafficked in the 1980s, contributing to an upswing in drug violence in that part of the state.

Those trafficking corridors fell in popularity as enforcement efforts increased, and traffickers moved to sea and land routes in Mexico and the Pacific Ocean.

But a number of US officials have warned that the smuggling pendulum would swing back to the eastern routes through the Caribbean, and recent seizures would seem to confirm an increase in such activity.

In 2014, US officials estimated that the proportion of drugs shipped through the Caribbean had tripled, with the amount of cocaine traveling through the region increasing from 5 percent of the total to 16 percent. The then-head of the US Drug Enforcement Administration's Caribbean division, Vito Salvatore Guarino, estimated that smugglers moved 90 to 100 tons through the region, more than the about 70 tons of previous years.

According to the CBP, during Fiscal Year 2015, which ran October 1, 2014 to September 30, 2015, there were 49 drug seizures like the November 16 one in the Caribbean. During Fiscal Year 2016, which ended September 30, that type of seizure nearly doubled, hitting 95.

RELATED: 70 lbs of cocaine found in flight attendant's bag

9 PHOTOS
70lbs of cocaine found in flight attendants bag
See Gallery
70lbs of cocaine found in flight attendants bag
This undated photo released by the Los Angeles Airport Police shows multiple packages of cocaine wrapped in green cellophane that was apprehended at Los Angeles International Airport. JetBlue flight attendant accused of trying to sneak a suitcase full of cocaine through Los Angeles International Airport and making a dramatic dash to escape says she might not have been sure what was in her bag, a spokesman for her said Thursday, March 24, 2016, as prosecutors suggested she had smuggled before. (Los Angeles Airport Police via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
This undated photo released by the Los Angeles Airport Police shows multiple packages of cocaine wrapped in green cellophane that was apprehended at Los Angeles International Airport. JetBlue flight attendant accused of trying to sneak a suitcase full of cocaine through Los Angeles International Airport and making a dramatic dash to escape says she might not have been sure what was in her bag, a spokesman for her said Thursday, March 24, 2016, as prosecutors suggested she had smuggled before. (Los Angeles Airport Police via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
Vanessa Reynold, (R) mother of Marsha Reynold, a flight attendant charged with possession with intent to distribute 70 pounds (32 kg) of cocaine, exits the Brooklyn Federal Court following an hearing in the Brooklyn borough of New York March 24, 2016. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Vanessa Reynold, (L) mother of Marsha Reynold, a flight attendant charged with possession with intent to distribute 70 pounds (32 kg) of cocaine, and other family members exit the Brooklyn Federal Court following an hearing in the Brooklyn borough of New York March 24, 2016. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Attorney's spokesman Allan Jennings, speaks to the press outside the Brooklyn Federal Court following a hearing for Marsha Reynold, a flight attendant charged with possession with intent to distribute 70 pounds (32 kg) of cocaine, in the Brooklyn borough of New York March 24, 2016. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Attorney's spokesman Allan Jennings, speaks to the press outside the Brooklyn Federal Court following a hearing for Marsha Reynold, a flight attendant charged with possession with intent to distribute 70 pounds (32 kg) of cocaine, in the Brooklyn borough of New York March 24, 2016. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Marsha Reynolds, Flight Attendant that escaped after dropping 70lbs of cocaine is in custody https://t.co/oIqjHQl4dr https://t.co/ByEhKa6Z1d
LAX Smuggling Case: Marsha Reynolds was in court in Brooklyn. No plea & no Gucci's. She was wearing gray Converse sneakers per @TracyConnor
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION +
HIDE CAPTION

According to US Foreign Military Studies Office data, 80 percent of drugs smuggled into the US in 2012 came via maritime routes, and 30 percent of the drugs that came to the US by sea were carried on narco subs — though given criminal control of parts of western Colombia and the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean, it's likely that narco subs will continue to ply the US's western approaches, and recent narco-sub seizures have occurred in the Pacific.

In spite of that trend, however, most of the cocaine getting to the US still travels through Mexico via Central America. The DEA said in its 2015 National Drug Threat Assessment that 87 percent of the cocaine flowing to the US came through that area, while just 13 percent traveled through the Caribbean.

More from Business Insider:

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.

From Our Partners