HMCS Harry DeWolf Makes Her First Two Drug Bust Assists

HMCS Harry DeWolf has racked up two more milestones during her ongoing circumnavigation of North America. The ship successfully assisted in two drug busts for the US Coast Guard while in the Pacific Ocean on Operation Caribbe, Canada’s contribution to the multinational campaign targeting drug trafficking in the region.

For two days in early November, intelligence reports had provided HMCS Harry DeWolf with images of a vessel of interest and its coordinates. Harry DeWolf, the first Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ship deployed on Op Caribbe, was officially on the hunt for its first drug bust.

On November 8, 2021, the morning mist covered the ship as it moved through the ocean with Tropical Storm Terry closing in. The bridge team had just turned over, but their objective remained the same – to scour the horizon for the vessel of interest suspected of carrying contraband. A vessel of interest, commonly referred to as a ‘go-fast’, is usually a sleek, small boat that is difficult to spot.

So, although the duty watch had just been relieved, one naval warfare officer returned to the bridge to aid with lookout duties.

“One of the experienced sailors on my watch gave me some useful advice for when you’re a lookout: birds always mean something,” the officer said.

“Usually they mean whales, a submerged log or other hazards, but they also follow boats. I was scanning the horizon when I saw several birds about four miles out. Sure enough, directly beneath them was the wake of a small contact.”

After the sighting, Harry DeWolf immediately went into action.

Both Multi-Role Rescue Boats (MRRBs) were rapidly launched, carrying a team of United States Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment (USCG LEDET) members to board the vessel.

Although this vessel was not the primary target of interest Harry DeWolf had been tracking, it turned out to be a logistic support vessel for ‘go-fasts’ operating in the area. The trail was hot, and HMCS Harry DeWolf continued onwards, following the last known position of the primary vessel of interest.

With the last rays of daylight well behind the horizon, Harry DeWolf slowly approached the last known co-ordinates of their target under darkness. The team shifted to Electro-Optical/Infra-Red cameras and radar.

“Sir, I got it!” the lookout yelled out and a faint outline of a small ship appeared about 1,100 yards out.

Again the two MRRBs were launched, and within moments, the bridge was illuminated by the MRRBs blue and white LED patrol lights as they closed in on the target of interest. What the LEDET found onboard was nothing short of spectacular – 1,300 kg of cocaine, intelligence leading them to a transnational criminal organization, and confirmation that the bust had disrupted an identified smuggling route.

It was only 10 days later on November 18 at 4:30 a.m. when a second ‘go-fast’ was detected 26 nautical miles away.

Following their well-rehearsed procedures, the MRRB crews again calmly prepared themselves to launch under the red glow of the ship’s lighting. Both MRRBs launched at 5 a.m., with the portside MRRB tactically maneuvering around the long moon ray stretching out over the water.

“After leaving the ship we travelled about half an hour before we spotted them in the distance,” recalled the C6 gunner on the lead MRRB. The gunner, a Sailor 2nd Class and Naval Communicator, was responsible for manning the C6 gun mounts located at the bow of the MRRB.

“As the sun had just begun to light everything up, we took off our night vision goggles and there they were! Our driver went full tilt after the vessel of interest.”

“I think the vessel believed we were another runner like them,” the driver of one MRRB, a Sailor 1st Class and Boatswain said. “Because when they saw us, originally, they turned to meet us, but when we flipped our blue and white LED lights on they realized what was happening and attempted to bolt.”

Both MRRBs pursued the vessel at over 30 knots, quickly exceeding the vessel of interest’s speed, coming alongside on either flank of the vessel.

“It didn’t take long to catch them, and when we did, it was about five minutes until we got their vessel stopped,” the C6 gunner said.

“The people in the vessel of interest were definitely anticipating a longer chase, or were thinking that we wouldn’t be able to catch them – but our MRRBs are so fast, the crew on the vessel of interest didn’t even have a chance to jettison anything.”

The USCG LEDET in the MRRBs tried hailing the people in the vessel of interest in both English and Spanish, trying to get them to stop but the driver ignored their calls, attempting to swerve and break away from the MRRBs.

“When one member attempted to reach the ‘kill switch’ on the vessel of interest to slow the vessel down to allow for safe boarding with a boat hook, the driver of the vessel took the boat hook, snapped it in half and tried to slash at our boat,” the C6 gunner said.

At that moment, a USCG LEDET was able to jump aboard safely during this attempt to get away, and soon was joined by another. Only then did they get control of the vessel of interest, the chase was over, and the boat could safely be searched.

Harry DeWolf’s second successful interdiction assist resulted in a seizure of 1,289 kg of cocaine.

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