Royal Canadian Navy ships seize nearly USD $44M in illicit drugs in support of the U.S. Coast Guard

Navy News / April 14, 2021

By Captain Sarah Harasymchuk, deployed Public Affairs Officer, Operation CARIBBE

Sunday, March 21, 2021 at approximately 2:30 p.m. (Central Time). It was quiet on the bridge. The ship was gently making waves, patrolling its assigned area of operations in the eastern Pacific. Suddenly, the radio crackled. It was a U.S. Navy (USN) P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) reporting in. A suspicious “go-fast” vessel was in the area. Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Brandon, a Kingston-class ship deployed on Operation CARIBBE, was well positioned to make an intercept.

The Officer of the Watch, a Lieutenant (Navy) Naval Warfare Officer (NWO) immediately took action on the Commanding Officer’s orders to alter course and increase the ship’s speed to intercept the target.

“After I made the pipe to bring the ship to action, all the different parts of the ship’s company instantly came together to close-up on their respective stations,” the NWO described.

“Our success on this interdiction is the result of the expertise and training of the team coming together seamlessly with both Canadian and international partners.”

HMCS Brandon quickly launched its two rigid hull inflatable boats (RHIBs) with members of the embarked U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Law Enforcement Detachment (LEDET) 103, to conduct a Right of Visit boarding.

The Naval Combat Information Operators (NCIOPs) have an important role in the mission, monitoring radio traffic and passing on critical information to the Officer of the Watch on the bridge and the LEDET.

“I started copying the information and confirming the details from the MPA,” said the NCIOP on-watch, a Sailor First Class.

“I plotted the latitude and longitude to determine the position of the vessel. Being in the moment was phenomenal and super exciting, to see what actually happens in real-time. I realized this was happening out of nowhere, but I knew what to do because all of my training kicked in.”

When the suspected smugglers detected the approaching law enforcement units, they began jettisoning what appeared to be multiple bales of contraband that were recovered by one of HMCS Brandon’s RHIBs. Meanwhile, the second RHIB intercepted the vessel with assistance from USCG Cutter Forward’s helicopter.

The USCG helicopter employed Airborne Use of Force on the non-compliant vessel. Warning shots were fired, followed by disabling fire to incapacitate the motors of the vessel and prevent it from fleeing the scene.

The USCG Cutter took custody of three suspected smugglers and 870 kg of cocaine, with a street value of approximately USD $33M. The case has now been turned over to the USCG for further action and prosecution by U.S. authorities.

“The ship’s company of HMCS Brandon is proud to see mission success on Operation CARIBBE in support of our allies, USCG Law Enforcement Detachment 103,” said Lieutenant-Commander (LCdr) Maude Ouellet-Savard, Commanding Officer of HMCS Brandon. 

“This is an example of what the Navy can do for Canada. It’s a mission that demonstrates the Navy’s capability in a tangible way and creates real results that we can all be proud of.”

Just two days later, on March 23, the Senior NCIOP on board HMCS Saskatoon, a Master Sailor, logged a target report in the operations room.

“We took immediate action to inform all key players: the LEDET Chief, the Operations Officer and the Officer of the Watch. The ship took a new course in the direction of the target, as we simultaneously readied the boat’s crews and the LEDET 108 for the boarding,” said the NCIOP.

The target was initially reported by a USN P-3 Orion MPA operating in the area. HMCS Saskatoon’s two RHIBs sped through the waters to intercept the suspected smugglers undetected and the LEDET 108 conducted a Right of Visit boarding. Four suspected smugglers were found on board with contraband that later tested positive for cocaine and marijuana. In total, 250 kg of cocaine and approximately 45 kg of marijuana were seized valued at nearly USD $11M.

“In all aspects, this success can be credited to each and every member on board HMCS Saskatoon. From the communication between the operations room and the key players, the training of the boatswains and LEDET boarding team, to the cooks preparing meals – perseverance and professionalism were displayed throughout the entire evolution, making it a significant, safe and successful mission,” said the Senior NCIOP on board HMCS Saskatoon.

The USCG Cutter was then vectored to rendezvous with HMCS Saskatoon’s location on March 24, to seize the contraband and detain the suspected smugglers. After the suspected smugglers and contraband were removed, the vessel was deemed to be a hazard-to-navigation.

All Royal Canadian Navy ships uphold the international maritime standard to keep the seas safe and are required to destroy any hazard-to-navigation in order to protect mariners worldwide.

The vessel became a hazard-to-navigation and HMCS Saskatoon’s Commanding Officer ordered the use of C4 explosives to successfully conduct the first Kingston-class operational demolition, destroying the suspect vessel.

“I am very proud of the crew of HMCS Saskatoon, including USCG Law Enforcement Detachment 108, for their tireless efforts throughout Operation CARIBBE,” says LCdr Nadia Shields, Commanding Officer of HMCS Saskatoon.

“It is because of their diligence and professionalism that we have been successful in demonstrating Canada’s interoperability and strong relationships with partner nations. Disrupting the flow of illicit narcotics destined for North America is one way that the Royal Canadian Navy supports Canadians at home.”

HMC Ships Brandon and Saskatoon are currently patrolling in the eastern Pacific Ocean on Operation CARIBBE, to support Joint Interagency Task Force South who is responsible for the detection and monitoring of illicit trafficking in the eastern Pacific and Caribbean regions.

Operation CARIBBE is Canada's participation in U.S.-led enhanced counter-narcotics operations in the Caribbean Sea and the eastern Pacific Ocean. Under this operation, Canadian Armed Forces ships and aircraft deploy to the region on a rotational basis to help disrupt illicit trafficking in international waters and airspace.