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Big Busts Indicate Drug War Working, Says Transportation Secretary

October 6, 1989

NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ The 36 tons of cocaine seized over the last week is a clear indication that Colombia’s war on drugs is creating chaos for cocaine kingpins, federal officials said Thursday.

″We’re seizing a lot more cocaine because a lot more cocaine’s moving out, because it’s not safe to leave it in Colombia any more,″ Transportation Secretary Samuel K. Skinner said at a news conference in front of a boat on which more than six tons of cocaine was found.

Drug cartels used to keep large stockpiles of cocaine in Colombia and move it gradually to the United States, he said, but they’re now moving it in huge lots.

″That’s because of the pressure from the government in Colombia,″ he said. Colombia has cracked down heavily on drug traffickers since a leading presidential candidate was assassinated Aug. 18.

Skinner spoke in front of the Zedom Sea, a rusty, dented 185-foot offshore supply boat turned freighter. The Coast Guard seized the boat Monday in the Gulf of Mexico, then handed over the cargo and the crew of nine Colombians - eight men and a woman - Thursday to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

The nine were arraigned later on charges of importing cocaine and possession with intent to distribute cocaine. U.S. Magistrate Alma Chasez ordered each held without bond and appointed a public defender to represent them.

If convicted of the charges, they could be sentenced to life imprisonment.

″We will throw the book at them,″ said U.S. Attorney John Volz. ″We will try to get as much prison time as we can.″

Also Thursday, DEA spokesman Billy Fernandes said cocaine found aboard the Zedom Sea, originally estimated at 11,500 pounds, actually totaled 12,208 pounds and had a street value of nearly $554.9 million.

The cocaine on the Zedom Sea was one of four major finds in less than a week.

Texas state troopers found nine tons of the drug Wednesday in Harlingen, stacked in a house believed to be a center for repackaging cocaine after its arrival in the United States. Three Mexicans were arraigned Thursday on charges of engaging in organized criminal activity and aggravated cocaine possession.

About 20 tons was found late last week in a Los Angeles warehouse in what was described as the largest haul ever. And the Coast Guard seized about 1 1/2 tons near Puerto Rico over the weekend.

″It is not business as usual in the drug business today ...,″ said Skinner. ″The efforts in Colombia ... are creating what I’d call chaos. And we’re taking advantage of that, and we’re seizing cocaine that otherwise would have been transmitted in smaller groups and probably would not have been detected.″

In addition, he said, the various U.S. government agencies that fight the drug trade are far more cooperative than they used to be.

″The turf fighting that I used to see many years ago, I don’t see now,″ he said.

With the Gulf of Mexico and Puerto Rican seizures, the Coast Guard’s total take in the first four days of fiscal year 1990 is more than that of all that the Coast Guard seized the previous fiscal year, officials said. Federal fiscal years begin Oct. 1.

And there may well be more on the Zedom Sea, said Ruben Monzon, special agent in charge of the DEA’s New Orleans office.

The cocaine was found in two of 10 boxcar-size freight containers stacked on the deck, but the Coast Guard was able to search only the containers on top. DEA agents planned to search the others, he said.

The Zedom Sea was heading west from the Yucatan Peninsula when the crew of the cutter Cushing boarded it.

It’s likely that the ship was on a route known as the ″Trampoline,″ from Colombia to Mexico, and from there to California or west Texas, said Monzon.

The route is being used more these days because stepped-up patrols in Florida and along the Mexican border have increased the danger of smuggling along more direct routes, he said.

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