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Cocaine Floating Ashore Keeps Beaches Abuzz

July 19, 1989

CRYSTAL BEACH, Texas (AP) _ High tide has a new meaning these days along Texas’ Gulf Coast.

Dozens of bundles of cocaine with an estimated street value of $5 million have washed up along more than 200 miles of coast during the past three weeks, attracting a new breed of beachcomber to the area’s tiny fishing and resort towns.

″Everybody’s talking about it and I think everybody’s looking for it,″ said Herb Knowles, who works at the Dirty Pelican Pier in Crystal Beach, about 30 miles east of Galveston. ″Guys on the weekend are out here at night on three-wheeled vehicles with big spotlights on the beach.

″You tell me what they’re looking for.″

The first discovery occurred June 28 when five packages weighing a total of about 14.5 pounds were found in the sand on Matagorda Island, about 100 miles southwest of Houston.

A week and a half later, five bundles totaling about 78 pounds washed ashore on the Bolivar Peninsula across from Galveston, and 19 bundles weighing about 81 pounds were discovered by the Matagorda County sheriff’s department.

The latest find occurred Thursday when six men fishing about 10 miles off Galveston found 25 bundles with 83 pounds of cocaine floating in the Gulf of Mexico.

Altogether, 61 packages containing 261 pounds of 98 percent pure, uncut cocaine have been discovered by authorities or turned in to them.

″It all has the same markings, which leads us to believe it’s from the same load,″ said James E. Caldwell, supervisory special agent for the U.S. Customs Service in Galveston.

Marine biologists have estimated the cocaine was in the water from three weeks to a couple of months. It was bundled in watertight packages of five bricks, each wrapped in fiberglass resin and duct tape and then tied together with yellow plastic rope.

Each brick was marked with the word ″CENTAVO″ and the designation ″T5.″ On some of the bricks also is written ″USA 2.″

The drugs probably came from Colombia, Caldwell said. How they wound up in the gulf is anyone’s guess.

″It could have been from a ship that went down. It could have been an air drop. They could have tied it off with floats,″ he said.

Officials have speculated that a drug boat may have been wrecked during Tropical Storm Allison last month, dumping the contraband in the gulf.

Galveston County Sheriff Joe Max Taylor said these are the first instances of cocaine washing ashore in Texas, although bales of marijuana have washed up in the past.

Texas isn’t the only state awash in cocaine. More than 150 pounds of cocaine has been found on and off South Carolina beaches during the past two weeks, perhaps the result of an unsuccessful air drop by smugglers, federal officials have said.

In Texas, the Coast Guard and some sheriff’s departments made special cocaine patrols last week along miles of desolate beach, but most of the search now is confined to routine patrols.

″We’re not doing anything special,″ said Petty Officer Bowde West of the Coast Guard Station at Port O’Connor. ″But this definitely is the talk of the town, that’s for sure.″

″People like to keep it quiet, but they were wanting to comb the beaches to look,″ added Susie Segura, who can see miles of open beach from her perch on Meacom’s Pier off High Island, northeast of Galveston.

Knowles said he’s seen everything from parts of houses to bathtubs come ashore, but no cocaine yet. If he does, he said he’d leave the package on the beach and call police.

″Nine times out of 10, they might think it was mine to begin with,″ he said.

The cocaine that’s been discovered will be flown to Dallas where federal authorities will destroy it, Caldwell said.

″It’s pretty potent,″ he said. ″I imagine there have been some people sick who see this on television. But some of it might still be in the gulf.″

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