The U.S. Coast Guard has captured more than a half a billion dollars' worth of cocaine and heroin potentially headed for the West Coast since the beginning of August -- a sum that highlights a banner fiscal year for the military branch nationwide, officials announced this week.
At a press conference in San Diego on Wednesday, U.S. Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions commended Coast Guard crews for seizing 455,034 pounds of cocaine worth $6.1 billion in the last fiscal year.
In the eastern Pacific, where drug smugglers from Mexico, Central and South America have been known to chug north in vessels loaded with drugs for days or weeks at a time, Coast Guard crews have seized 50,550 pounds of cocaine and heroin since Aug. 2. The drugs had a value of $679.3 million, officials said.
"By preventing overdoses and stopping new addictions before they start, enforcing our drug laws saves lives," Sessions said at the event. "This record-breaking year by our Coast Guard saw the arrest of more than 500 suspected drug traffickers and kept nearly half a million pounds of dangerous drugs from getting to our streets — and ultimately to our neighbors, friends, and families. I commend every service member who has helped us in our mission to keep the American people safe, and I thank them for this indispensable contribution to public safety."
The smugglers guide panga boats and even homemade submarines across the ocean, hundreds of miles off the coast to avoid detection. Many of them land in the middle of the night on the Southern California coast.
Over the years, pangas have washed up on beaches from San Diego to Santa Barbara County and submarines have been intercepted near the Channel Islands.
A recent intercept by a California-based crew was on Aug. 14, about 450 miles southwest of Guatemala and El Salvador. The vessel contained four men and about 6,350 pounds of cocaine.
The vessel was outfitted with outboard motors and was painted to match the waters it was moving through, officials said.
"The seizure of this cocaine and heroin means tens of thousands of pounds won't make it to our communities and hundreds of millions of dollars won't make it into cartel coffers," said Acting U.S. Atty for the Southern District Alana Robinson in a statement. "To drug traffickers who may think they are invisible in the middle of what seems to be a vast, empty ocean: You are not alone. We are doing everything we can to prevent you from using the high seas as your personal freeway."
For breaking California news, follow @JosephSerna on Twitter.