CARIBBEAN SEA (NNS) -- Sailors aboard the expeditionary fast transport USNS Spearhead (T-EPF 1) performed detection and monitoring patrols in the U.S. Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM) area of responsibility, to assist in the interdiction of illicit drug trafficking, during Southern Partnership Station 2017 (SPS 17).
Joint Interagency Task Force (JIATF) South led the multinational multi-agency effort in which Spearhead partnered with the DEA, FBI and U.S. Coast Guard until concluding operations, Aug. 15.
"The Spearhead provides JIATF South with an additional surface sensor platform for detecting suspicious shipping involved in trafficking in narcotics," said Capt. Steven Stacy, SPS 17 mission commander. "By providing them with an additional sensor, we increase the odds of interdiction."
In fiscal year 2016 (FY16), the task force documented more than 4,000 drug smuggling events in the waters of the western Caribbean Sea. The area between Honduras and South America is the most active illicit trafficking zone in the region.
"The primary narcotic in this region is cocaine and in FY16 JIATF South interdicted 282 metric tons of it," said Stacy. "Our continued presence in the region reinforces our commitment to partner nations to help to stem the flow of drugs into North America."
Sailors assigned to Coastal Riverine Group 1 and Navy Cargo Handling Battalion 1 (NCHB 1) worked together to observe ships traveling through the illicit trafficking zone. The watchstanders monitored vessels as Spearhead transited its designated operational area, and were responsible for reporting any suspected illegal trafficking targets.
"We work with the bridge, civilian mariners and embarked security teams to make sure everyone is communicating when we get a contact in the water," said the leading chief petty officer of the NCHB 1 team embarked aboard Spearhead. "It's important to know what we're looking for and the descriptors for vessels that are typically involved in trafficking."
The detection and monitoring operations gave the Sailors a unique opportunity to work alongside civil service mariners assigned to Spearhead.
"The bridge team was instrumental in helping personnel get familiar with the radar and other equipment used onboard," said the chief petty officer. "The detection and monitoring operations have allowed everyone a chance to learn more of how our counterparts work together with other agencies and where we fit in the big picture."
Spearhead is scheduled to conduct additional detection and monitoring operations with JIATF South assets and U.S. Coast Guard vessels in the future, as part of SPS 17.
U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command/U.S. 4th Fleet supports USSOUTHCOM's joint and combined military operations by employing maritime forces in cooperative maritime security operations to maintain access, enhance interoperability, and build enduring partnerships in order to enhance regional security and promote peace, stability, and prosperity in the Caribbean, Central, and South American regions.
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