A Coast Guard cutter carrying more than 28,000 pounds of cocaine seized from smugglers returned Thursday to San Diego after a 79-day deployment off Central and South America.
Officials said the seizures represent a major defeat for the transnational organized crime networks that profit from the sale of drugs smuggled into the U.S.
The seizures were accomplished by Coast Guard personnel operating from cutters, U.S. Navy ships and Royal Canadian navy ships.
"It takes a network to defeat a network," Coast Guard Vice Adm. Charles Michel said at a news conference at Naval Base San Diego, where the cocaine was unloaded from the cutter Boutwell.
The cocaine had a wholesale value of $424 million and was seized in 19 separate interdictions, officials said.
In the past six months, a greater quantity of drugs has been seized in the eastern Pacific than during the preceding 12 months, officials said. The seizure rate is the highest since 2009.
The numbers of military and law enforcement personnel "serving on the frontlines in the drug transit zones have been increased sharply," Michel said.
Still, there are budget restraints hampering the effort to block illicit drugs from arriving in the U.S., Michel said.
"We still only act on 20% of our actionable intelligence due to resource constraints, further complicating this mission," Michel said.
He noted that the Boutwell is nearly 50 years old, "which makes integration with international, military and law enforcement partners difficult at best."