LOS ANGELES — Coast Guard officials say they have seized $38.5 million worth of cocaine from suspected smugglers -- some of whom evaded arrest -- off Central and South America.
The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Robert Ward and another cutter recovered more than 2,800 pounds (1,270 kilograms) of pure, uncut cocaine in their latest busts.
The second cutter, the Boston-based Seneca, seized some of the cocaine from a fishing vessel flying a Costa Rican flag last month, Lt. Benjamin Davne, commanding officer of the Robert Ward, said on Thursday. Three people onboard were arrested and may face conspiracy to distribute cocaine charges, authorities said.
The Robert Ward recovered the remainder a week ago after suspected smugglers dumped it into the ocean for a faster escape as the Coast Guard unsuccessfully pursued their vessel.
"We get the drugs in bulk when they're the most vulnerable on the high seas," Rear Adm. Peter Gautier said.
The Robert Ward returned to the Port of Los Angeles on Thursday.
Authorities believe cartels have been smuggling the narcotics and say seizing the cocaine will save lives because the drugs won't reach the streets.
Gautier said the Coast Guard's efforts have disrupted smugglers' operations in the region.
"It makes them react, it hampers their supply chains," he said. "I don't think we're going to stop (drug trafficking) but we certainly want to hamper it."