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SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic – Dominican counter-narcotics authorities seized 767 kilograms (1,690 pounds) of cocaine off a speedboat, arrested four suspected narco-traffickers and killed a fifth, marking the second major maritime bust in less than two weeks.
The raid, carried out at 1:30 a.m. local time on July 3, concluded a weeks-long investigation in which Dominican and international authorities tracked the drug shipment from Colombia. Authorities said the cocaine was bound for the Dominican Republic, where it would be routed to the United States and Europe.
“The decommission of these 722 packets of cocaine with a multimillion dollar value on the street is the result of the coordinated work by our agencies against this criminal activity,” said Gen. Rolando Rosado Mateo, chief of the Dominican National Directorate for Drug Control (DNCD), the lead Dominican counter-narcotics agency.
The shipment was transferred from an ocean liner to two speedboats off the Dominican coast. Numerous agencies, including the Dominican National Police, Dominican and U.S. Coast Guards, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, worked together to track the boats to an area south of San Pedro de Macorís in southeastern Dominican Republic.
Authorities chased one of the boats to land where a firefight broke out between alleged narco-traffickers and authorities.
DNCD officials said the boat’s driver, Raúl Pérez Cuevas, opened fire at a helicopter pursuing the boat. Authorities returned fire, wounding Pérez. He later died at the hospital, authorities said.
Four other men – Miguel Zapata de la Rosa, Roberto Octavio Peña Cordero, Julio César Madrigal García and Ruddy de Jesús Gálvez – were arrested and transferred to the prosecutor’s office in San Pedro, where they were to be questioned and arraigned.
The second boat, also suspected to be carrying drugs, escaped, the DNCD said in a statement.
Rosado said the suspects are part of a powerful nexus of narco-traffickers, made up of Colombians, Venezuelans and Dominicans, who have been moving South American drugs through eastern Dominican Republic.
It was the second major narcotics shipment seized off the Dominican coast in less than two weeks. On June 23, the DNCD and U.S. agencies intercepted a 35-foot speedboat about 90 miles south of the country’s Caribbean coast and seized 1,000 bricks of cocaine weighing about 900 kilograms (1,984 pounds).
The shipment, estimated to be worth more than US$26 million, was transferred to Port Canaveral, Fla., to be held as evidence. Three men aboard the boat were arrested, authorities said.
The Dominican Republic and neighboring Haiti, which together make up the island of Hispaniola, are major Caribbean transshipment points.
The maritime seizures reflect a shift in tactics employed by narco-trafficking organizations. Traffickers had long utilized small planes, flying low, to drop illicit drug shipments on farmland and other rural areas, from where they would be moved by boat.
After employing fighter planes to deter drug flights, authorities said traffickers have increasingly used maritime routes and the country’s container ports to transport narcotics.
Dominican authorities have been working closely with U.S. agencies to monitor international waters and the country’s coastline. Within the Dominican Republic, officials have had their aerial, land and maritime agencies work closer together to intercept drug shipments.
The two recent seizures were among the largest this year, according to the DNCD.