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Astoria-Based Coast Guard Ship Returns to N. Oregon Coast After Drug Busts

Published 03/17/23 at 6:43 PM
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Astoria Coast Guard Ship Returns to N. Oregon Coast After Drug Busts

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(Astoria, Oregon) – Right now, there is one group of about 50 people glad to be back on the Oregon coast. (Ship photos courtesy US Coast Guard)

The US Coast Guard (USCG) saw the return to port of its cutter Steadfast (WMEC 623) this week, back in Astoria after 69 days of patrolling the waters off Oregon all the way down to South America and engaging in a handful of successful counternarcotics operations.

According to the USCG in Astoria, the Steadfast disrupted the flow of illegal narcotics on three sizable endeavors that resulted in the seizure of more than 7,500 pounds of cocaine, valued at $85.6 million, assuring that none of it would reach U.S. maritime borders or the streets of North America.

More than 12,000 nautical miles were traversed during the operation, as the crew conducted training as well as assisted with search-and-rescue missions and providing assistance with their helicopter. There were numerous law enforcement missions during their run from their homeport on the Oregon coast down through Mexico and beyond.

Joining the Steadfast was the Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron MH-65 Dolphin helicopter and aircrew based out of Jacksonville, Florida, along with temporarily assigned crew from the Coast Guard Cutter Harriet Lane (WMEC 903), and soon-to-be-commissioned Coast Guard Cutter Argus (WMSM 915).

Among the incidents:

During a nighttime patrol, the ship responded to an alert by a Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) of a vessel that law enforcement suspected of smuggling drugs, apparently moving into international waters. The location was not disclosed by USCG. With crew that included a boarding team, the Steadfast found the vessel, engaging it on a multi-hour pursuit. During the chase, the suspects threw some 2,260 pounds of cocaine overboard – an amount with a street value of about $25.6 million.

Additionally, Steadfast’s crew tracked another suspected narcotics-smuggling vessel with the assistance of a Mexican Navy (SEMAR) surveillance aircraft and aircrew. Steadfast personnel launched an OTH boat crew and HITRON helicopter aircrew while the Mexican MPA tracked the vessel. Steadfast’s small boat and helicopter crews interdicted the suspected narcotics-smuggling vessel and seized 3,300 pounds of cocaine valued at $37.5 million.

“The successful coordination between a U.S. Coast Guard cutter and Mexican MPA was a significant step in advancing our strategic partnerships in combatting the flow of illicit narcotics in Eastern Pacific,” said Cmdr. Brock S. Eckel, Steadfast’s commanding officer.

The next day, Steadfast crew launched an OTH boat crew and HITRON aircrew to intercept another suspected smuggling vessel. The aircrew located the suspected smuggling vessel and worked with a nearby Mexican Naval vessel to vector in a Mexican Naval helicopter. This multi-national effort resulted in the seizure of 1,984 pounds of cocaine valued at $22.5 million.


“From battling heavy seas off the Oregon and California coasts, to overcoming equipment casualties, and multiple smuggling vessel interdictions in the darkest of nights, the determination, resilience, and professionalism of the Steadfast crew was simply exceptional,” said Eckel. “The crew’s operational success was matched only by the strengthening of international and inter-agency relationships along the way. Steadfast’s crew once again proved their proficiency in working with partner nations jointly executing the counternarcotics mission successfully.”

The fight against drug cartels in the Eastern Pacific Ocean requires unity of effort in all phases from detection, monitoring, and interdictions, to criminal prosecutions for these interdictions by United States Attorney’s Offices throughout the country.

Commissioned in 1968, Steadfast is one of two 210-foot medium endurance cutters homeported in Astoria. The cutter and crew deploy along the western seaboard of North and Central America enforcing living marine resource laws and regulations, detecting and interdicting narcotics and migrant smuggling, and conducting search-and-rescue operations. MORE ASTORIA PHOTOS BELOW

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Andre' GW Hagestedt is editor, owner and primary photographer / videographer of Oregon Coast Beach Connection, an online publication that sees over 1 million pageviews per month. He is also author of several books about the coast.

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