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Coast Guard Cutter Home After Seizing Millions in Cocaine

A crewmember from Coast Guard Cutter Valiant hugs his children Tuesday, June 6, 2017, in Mayport, Florida. (U.S. Coast Guard photo/Petty Officer 2nd Class Anthony L. Soto)
A crewmember from Coast Guard Cutter Valiant hugs his children Tuesday, June 6, 2017, in Mayport, Florida. (U.S. Coast Guard photo/Petty Officer 2nd Class Anthony L. Soto)

A Coast Guard cutter is back at its Mayport base after a 63-day patrol that saw its crew seize an estimated $147 million worth of cocaine, work with others to capture another $170 million of contraband and arrest 10 people facing various drug charges.

The Valiant's crew seized five drug-laden vessels with almost 5 tons of cocaine during its deployment in the Eastern Pacific Ocean off Central and South America as part of a Joint Interagency Task Force South partnership, according to the Coast Guard. The task force, based in Key West, oversees the monitoring of drug traffickers and helps U.S. and multinational law enforcement agencies track and capture them.

The crew also helped transfer another six tons of cocaine ashore after it was seized by other cutters on patrol in the heavily trafficked drug transit zone.

"We are doing a lot more than keeping drugs from reaching our streets and poisoning our youth," said Cmdr. Timothy Cronin, Valiant's commanding officer. "The Coast Guard's maritime interdictions will also help reduce the horrific violence and instability caused by transnational criminal organizations in many Central American countries."

The Valiant's crew also saved some aquatic life during the cruise -- one baby and three adult olive ridley sea turtles entangled in garbage. After spotting something floating in the water in April, a closer look revealed a tangled mass of fishing lines and gear with turtles trapped inside, the Coast Guard said. Crew members went out in an interceptor boat and freed the turtles, then gathered debris for later disposal ashore.

"One day you're chasing drug traffickers, and the next day you get to save the life of a beautiful animal in the middle of the Pacific Ocean," said Petty Officer 3rd Class Dillon Whitaker, who disentangled the baby turtle.

Crew members also volunteered at the Salvation Army orphanage in Tapachula, Mexico, during the voyage. They painted rooms, cleaned up and played with the children in the community near the Mexico-Guatemala border.

The 210-foot-long medium-endurance cutter is celebrating its 50th year of service and operates with a 75-member crew.

The Valiant and 26 other medium-endurance cutters are slated for replacement with vessels called offshore patrol cutters with better sensors, pursuit boat and helicopter capabilities and interoperability with other military partners, the Coast Guard said.