What started as a disabled vessel call about a fishing boat in the Caribbean Sea quickly turned into a drug investigation that netted more than three tons of pot worth more than $6 million, all of which was off-loaded in Key West Tuesday, according to two Coast Guard commanders.
The Key West-based, 270-foot Coast Guard Cutter Mohawk was recently on patrol about 200 miles south of the island of Hispaniola when they responded to a 60-foot Jamaican fishing boat, the Captain Richard, which was adrift, said Cmdr. Chris Mooradian.
"We were asked to proceed to their last known location, because they were out of fuel, so we were treating it like a search and rescue case," Mooradian said. "After taking the vessel in tow, [Coast Guard District 7] called us and asked us to board them after the government of Jamaica notified them."
The crew of the Captain Richard were happy to see their rescuers and did not attempt to throw any of the marijuana bales overboard, Mooradian said.
The Coast Guard boarding team found the bales in a hidden compartment aboard the shrimp boat. The team also noted that there were no shrimp nets on board the vessel, Mooradian said.
Although the stranded boat was out of fuel, the seizure lacked the usual hallmarks of a pot bust on the high seas.
The typical go-fast boat chase followed by the panicked dumping of drugs by the suspect crew were noticeably absent in this interdiction, a point not lost on the Coast Guard crew.
"I can't explain that," Mooradian said when asked why the suspect crew didn't toss the drugs before the Coast Guard arrived. "They all seemed very cooperative when we were putting them in tow. And they were all very cooperative as we were on board making the case."
The exact location of the bust, the number of crew and other aspects of the investigation were turned over to the Department of Justice and the Coast Guard was asked not to comment, said District 7 spokesman Chief Ryan Doss.
It was also an unusual bust for the Mohawk for another reason -- it was made by a joint crew made up mostly of the coasties from the Mohawk's sister ship, the 270-foot Cutter Tahoma based in Kittery, Maine.
The Tahoma is currently being refitted with new go-fast goodies, refitted plumbing and electronics to bring her up to modern speed, said Mooradian, who was given temporary command over the Mohawk for 30 days as part of a multi-crew training program.
That was fine with Mohawk's usual skipper, Cmdr. Mark Fedor, who used the time to train crew, he said.
The Mohawk temporarily took command of the old sea plane hangar on Trumbo Point for the last 30 days where some crew took part in training while others were sent out to help fellow units, Fedor said.
"It's hard to keep up with those things and much of the training when you're on your ship, because there is always something that needs to be done or something to be fixed," Fedor said.
Handing over a ship to another commander and crew isn't easy for a crew who have grown to understand a vessel's quirks and personality, but Fedor knew she was in good hands.
"Cmdr. Mooradian and I have known each other going back years when we each skippered 110-foot patrol boats in New England, so I was glad that she was going to a CO (commanding officer) that I knew and trusted," Fedor said.
The Mohawk is now back with her home crew at Sector Key West, and Fedor was happy to see his ship again.
"Administratively, these things can sometimes be a pain in the butt," Fedor said with a laugh. "But it's necessary in the Coast Guard to keep all our people trained up."