HMCS Moncton assists withs large drug seizure during Op CARIBBE
By Ryan Melanson,
The Commanding Officer of HMCS Moncton describes a tense moment on the bridge of his ship on November 10, as he and his crew assisted in an interdiction at sea that led to the seizure of 834 kilograms of cocaine and the apprehension of three alleged drug smugglers.
Working with the embarked US Coast Guard detachment and Joint Interagency Task Force South (JIATF-S), the ship planned planned to approach the suspicious vessel at the darkest point of the night, slowly and quietly to preserve the element of surprise
“The mood inside the ship was tense, but one of high excitement. We had to do this very quietly, so we were whispering as we made our approach,” said LCdr Russell Hodgson, adding the ship’s RHIB was in the water with one RCN sailor to drive, accompanied by USCG law enforcement personnel.
“And once we took control of the scene, there was definitely a bit of a cheer that went up through the ship,” he added,
“Then, we refocused on the long game and the next 12 to 18 hours.”
The operation was conducted as part of Op CARIBBE, the Canadian contribution to JIATF-S Operation MARTILLO, the US-led mission responsible for the interdiction of illicit trafficking, including drugs, money, weapons and people, from routes in South and Central America. The RCN’s role involves acting as a platform for the embarked USCG members to use at sea – Canadian sailors are in a supportive role and do not conduct any law enforcement actions.
In this case, coordination with an American maritime patrol aircraft allowed Moncton to be aware of the suspicious small boat, and after successfully stopping the vessel and seizing its illicit cargo, both the drugs and the apprehended individuals were transferred to the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Ship Mounts Bay. The entire process, including planning, interdiction, transfer of the heavy bricks of cocaine, and processing of the evidence and suspected smugglers, took more than 18 hours.
Adding to the difficulty of operating in the dark, the ship dealt with a rough sea state through the interdiction, and open barrels of fuel sloshing around the vessel in question created a dangerous environment with heavy fumes, LCdr Hodgson said.
Like all ships in the Kingston–class, HMCS Moncton is currently crewed by a mix of Naval Reservists with varying levels of at-sea experience, along with Reg force sailors, some of who are new to the MCDV platform. There’s no hiding the fact that the situation creates challenges, but it also creates learning opportunities.
“Because of these challenges everything we do, especially an operation like this, becomes an all-hands-on-deck type of operation,” LCdr Hodgson said.
“I can tell you the crew of HMCS Moncton was able to more than meet the challenge, and they deserve a full pat on the back for all of this. Credit also goes to Sea Training Patrol, they were able to get our crew worked up to the point where we could carry out this mission without too much difficulty. I’m very proud of the crew.”
Following the seizure and processing of both the contraband and the accused individuals, Moncton resumed normal operations and continued supporting the US Coast Guard and JIATF-S before returning to Halifax in December.