The Bertholf, a Coast Guard Cutter based in Alameda, Calif., seized a bale of cocaine after a shootout in international waters Wednesday night.
It's a tenuous accomplishment for the new vessel, part of a controversial program to stop drug smugglers offshore.
A patrol aircraft spotted four suspicious boats 80 miles off the coast of Guatemala, a hotspot for cocain smuggling between Latin America and the United States. Marksmen in a Coast Guard helicopter shot out the engines of two of the boats and crews from the Bertholf boarded the two disabled speedboats and took four smugglers into custody. The Coast Guard found one bale of cocaine.
The smugglers are believed to be part of a major drug smuggling operation in the area. The Coast Guard is continuing to search for more bales of cocaine the smugglers threw into the water before the interception.
This is the first drug bust for the cutter, commissioned in 2008 as a part of a program in which the Coast Guard is spending $17 billion over 20 years on a new fleet. The Bertholf is the first of eight planned National Security Cutters.
Stopping a single bale worth a couple of million dollars, however, hardly proves the program's success. According to the Coast Guard, its existing fleet seized a record $4.7 billion of cocaine in 2007.