MARIGOT–Customs officers of the St. Martin Coast Guard have made a significant drug bust, seizing 285 kilos of cocaine in wrapped bundles from a cigarette-type go-fast during the night of December 2 and morning of December 3 in the bay of Grand Case.
Martinique Prosecutor Renaud Gaudeul, from Juridiction Interrégionale Spécialisée (JIRS) in Fort-de-France, gave the media details of the interception by the Coast Guard Customs vessel Soualiga (DF24) at a press conference in Marina Fort Louis where the confiscated cigarette boat was docked. JIRS is specialised in organised crime and has eight branches in France, one being in Martinique.
The Customs vessel was patrolling in the bay of Grand Case on December 3 shortly after midnight and approached the suspect go-fast for a control before deploying a semi-rigid inflatable boat (RIB) from DF24 to board the go-fast.
At the same time a second suspect vessel approached, but on seeing the Customs vessel it immediately made a U-turn and fled the area. In addition, a seven-metre-long RIB from the traffickers attempted to ram the Customs RIB in what the Prosecutor described as an “extremely dangerous” operation.
As five armed Customs officers boarded the three-engine cigarette go-fast two of the three occupants jumped overboard and swam for shore. The third occupant, the skipper, reacted very aggressively towards the Customs officers, attempting to prevent the seizure of the vessel.
On board was found 285 kilos of cocaine in 10 bundles, with a street value of 24 million euros, the Prosecutor said. He praised the professionalism of the Customs officers for working in difficult conditions and for not firing their weapons.
The skipper, a 46-year old Venezuelan national, was arrested and handed over to the Gendarmerie in St. Martin for the investigation. An international arrest warrant has been issued to locate the two other drug traffickers, one of whom has been identified as a French national and owner of the cigarette boat.
It was noted this was the second largest seizure of the year in regional waters close to St. Martin following the operation on July 19 that led to the discovery of a 1½ tons of cocaine on board the sailboat Le Livie. On that occasion the traffickers set fire to the vessel in an attempt to destroy the narcotics.
Customs officials said this operation was particularly satisfying, as the DF24 had been out of commission for eight months for repairs of damage caused by Hurricane Irma. During that time surveillance was carried out by the Gendarmerie’s Brigade Nautique.
The judicial developments of this operation are monitored by the JIRS Prosecutor’s Office of Fort-de-France, which entrusted the research to the anti-drug trafficking department OCRTIS and the Research Section of the Gendarmerie in St. Martin.
French Minister of Action and Public Accounts Gérald Darmanin congratulated the Customs officers of St. Martin on the successful operation.
“I would like to congratulate Customs officials on this new seizure in the Caribbean zone,” he said in a release. “It once again illustrates their involvement and determination in the fight it is waging against drug trafficking in order to protect our territory and our fellow citizens.”