The U.S. Coast Guard has seized nearly 35,000 pounds of cocaine from apparent drug smuggling vessels in the eastern Pacific Ocean.
The drugs were off-loaded Tuesday in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Cmdr. Michael Sharp told reporters the drugs were found over the last three months aboard fishing vessels and go-fast boats outfitted to conceal contraband and evade authorities.
Six crews seized the drugs from 21 separate vessels stopped in Pacific waters off Mexico and Central and South America. Sharp said the drugs had a wholesale value of roughly $466 million.
The guard's commandant, Adm. Karl Schultz, said in the last few years, crews have seized 1.3 million pounds of cocaine and detained 1,200 suspects at sea.
Schultz said most of the drugs originate in Colombia and are destined for the U.S.
"The interdiction and disruption of more than 17 tons of cocaine is a result of the collaboration and coordination of multiple Coast Guard and interagency assets to address the complex maritime challenge of transnational criminal organizations," Sharp said. "I am extremely proud of all the women and men that contributed to the mission success. It is a direct reflection of how the U.S. Coast Guard delivers mission excellence anytime, anywhere."
Drug Enforcement Administration Assistant Special Agent in Charge Mike Dubet, of the Jacksonville office, said seizing that amount of cocaine may have saved lives across the country.
"This could have been hundreds upon hundreds of lives that have been saved by the seizures," Dubet said. "We cannot avoid seeing that people want to use cocaine. When it comes to the cartels, if we demand a certain drug, they're going to bring it to us."
Dubet said adding fentanyl to cocaine is a street dealer marketing strategy.
"It enhances the effect of the drug," he said. "So if I'm a drug dealer and I got my customers, I want my drugs to be better than my competitor's."
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, overdoses involving cocaine mixed with an opioid rose from 3,822 deaths in 1992 to 13,942 deaths in 2017.