Coast Guard Struggles To Contain Drug Smuggling After Budget Cuts

By McCarton Ackerman 04/10/14

Thanks to sequestration, the Coast Guard captures only a fraction of its proposed goal of drugs entering the United States.

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The recent budget cuts to the U.S. Coast Guard brought about by sequestration have been directly impacting their ability to combat drug smuggling at sea. The Coast Guard has been tasked with overseeing six million square miles of ocean that includes the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and eastern Pacific, in hopes of reducing the supply of drugs heading toward the U.S.

But while the Obama Administration set a goal of capturing 40 percent of the drugs entering the country by 2015, Admiral Robert Papp, U.S. Coast Guard commandant, confirmed that the agency is only capturing 20 percent of the drugs due to limited resources. Papp said the Coast Guard is only able to move on 39 percent of suspect vessels moving toward South America and Central America; the remaining 61 percent are simply ignored.

The lack of resources is directly reflected in the decrease of captured drugs last year as compared to 2012. The agencies seized 194,800 pounds of cocaine last year, down 41,000 pounds from 2012. Marijuana seizures also dropped by 43,500 pounds during that same period, from 124,500 to 81,000. Papp said the $300 million lost by the Coast Guard because of sequestration has devastated many of their mandatory programs, but he remains hopeful that their proposed budget of $9.7 billion in 2015 will rectify some of the shortages.

Until recently, the Coast Guard had a reputation for being extremely proficient in intercepting drugs being smuggled at sea. In March 2012, they teamed with the Honduran Navy to intercept a “drug sub” in the Western Caribbean, which marked their 30th interception in six years.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.