- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 8, 2003

Two U.S. Customs Service aircraft yesterday located and tracked suspected drug smugglers in a high-speed boat off the Bahamas carrying more than 3,100 pounds of marijuana, which later was seized by customs agents. No arrests were made.
The aircraft, a P-3 early warning plane and a P-3A tracker craft, operating near Ragged Island in the Bahamas, received information that the vessel, known as a "go-fast boat," had been sighted five miles off the eastern coast of Cuba.
The customs aircraft located the boat and began to track it while waiting for additional agents to arrive. The vessel was tracked to the southwest coast of Ragged Island, where airborne agents observed several individuals offloading what appeared to be bags into a cave along the shore. The boat left the area a short time later.
Customs Service spokesman Kevin Bell said helicopters assigned to the Operation Bahamas, Turks, and Caicos Task Force arrived on the scene and were directed to the cave by the customs aircraft. The ground crew from the helicopter searched the cave and recovered the marijuana.
In addition to aerial support, Mr. Bell said, the Customs Air and Marine Interdiction Coordination Center in Riverside, Calif., provided extensive communications and coordination support during the operation.
The Customs Service Air and Marine Interdiction Division is the nation's premier air and marine law-enforcement interdiction group. Headed by Executive Director Charles E. Stallworth II, a former Air Force colonel and fighter pilot, it is assigned to guard the seas and skies to protect the public from threats from illegal drugs and terrorism.
In the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks, its primary mission was redefined to help the nation's anti-terrorism operations, although counterdrug operations continue to be a vital part of its mission.
"Our airborne and marine counterdrug and counterterrorism operations remain top priorities," Mr. Bell said. "The Air and Marine Interdiction Division is committed to stopping the flow of illegal drugs into the United States before they reach our borders."
Customs conducts air and marine surveillance in the Caribbean, Central America and elsewhere.


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