Portsmouth-Based Cutter Returns from Patrol

Monday, June 09, 2003
The Coast Guard Cutter Harriet Lane returns home Saturday, June 7 at 1 p.m. from a 61-day patrol in support of maritime homeland security, counter-drug operations and alien migrant interdiction in the Florida Straits and Caribbean Sea. At the opening of Operation Iraqi Freedom and with the national threat level at orange, Harriet Lane was ordered to patrol the Florida Straits and positively identify shipping traffic approaching the southern U.S. through the well-traveled old Bahama channel. The immediate threat in the region was high-speed small boats (often called go-fasts), which ferried illegal Cuban migrants between Cuba and the Florida Keys 80 miles to the north. Harriet Lane was involved in a particularly successful high-speed chase that brought together Coast Guard, Customs, and Border Patrol assets. The pursuit started in the southern Cay Sal Banks, Bahamas and ended some 70 miles later with the capture of two go-fasts, nine illegal migrants and the arrest of four U.S. citizens suspected of participating in illegal smuggling operations. When the national threat level returned to yellow, Harriet Lane was ordered back to the Caribbean in support of counter-narcotics operation. While transiting, Harriet Lane boarded two U.S. commercial fishing vessels, discovering one to be engaged in illegal finning of sharks and the other to be in violation of several “safety of life at sea” regulations. As a result, both vessels were issued notices of violation and were ordered to return to port. In response to a distress call, Harriet Lane was diverted to search for a sailing vessel that had been adrift for days in the seas north of Cuba. Harriet Lane took the vessel in tow and proceeded towards Key West, Florida until commercial assistance could be coordinated. While patrolling in the Caribbean, Harriet Lane was diverted to investigate a suspected go-fast vessel spotted by an HC-130 airplane from Air Station Miami, 120 miles north of the cutter’s position. Just before midnight, the go-fast was located drifting in the water. Harriet Lane, with all lights extinguished, made its final approach. The suspected smugglers were apparently awaiting the arrival of a refueling vessel and were caught by surprise when the Harriet Lane energized its high-intensity searchlights from only 200 yards away. An armed boarding crew was alongside the go-fast moments later, denying the opportunity to run or abandon the boat and cargo. A thorough inspection of the go-fast revealed over two tons of pure, uncut cocaine with an estimate street value of $8 million. The nation’s terrorist threat warning level was once again raised to orange and Harriet Lane was ordered to return to the Florida Straits and conduct maritime homeland security operations for many of the ports of southern Florida. Over a 10-day period, 59 Cuban nationals attempting to enter the U.S. illegally were taken aboard the Harriet Lane. Most had been at sea for days and all had willingly abandoned their makeshift rafts for the safety of the cutter. Once onboard, the migrants were given medical attention, food, shelter from the sun and the opportunity to present their reasons for seeking entrance to the U.S. to a U.S. immigration officer. The Harriet Lane is a 270-foot medium endurance cutter homeported in Portsmouth, Va., and is commanded by Cmdr. Eric C. Jones.
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