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First line of defense: U.S. Customs’ Air and Marine Ops keep coastal borders safe

Local 10′s Christina Vazquez gets firsthand look at protecting the coast

MIAMI – There is a team of federal agents exclusively focused on keeping our coastal borders safe from transnational terrorism and international smuggling threats. From their enforcement actions to humanitarian work, U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Air and Marine Operations are our first line of defense.

Local 10 News’ Christina Vazquez took to the air in an Airbus AS350 A-Star with their federal agents to get rare look at their mission and the work being done right here in South Florida to keep residents safe.

“The mission of Air and Marine Operations is to protect the American people within the border, at the border, and beyond the border of the United States,” explained U.S. Customs and Border Protection Spokesman Zach Mann, who added that South Florida is unique, “in the sense that we are a coastal community, Florida of course with almost 1400 miles of coastline, but we are an international border as well with the Bahamas, Cuba, and the Caribbean right nearby and those countries and those areas are historic transit locations for contraband as far back as you can think.”

“We are the world’s largest law enforcement entity that does what we do,” said Supervisory Air Interdiction Agent Todd Gayle during his recent flight with Local 10’s Christina Vazquez.

Gayle is one of 1,800 federal agents and mission support personnel that comprise CBP’s Air and Marine Operations. They have a fleet of 240 aircraft and 300 marine vessels operating throughout the United States, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

They work to detect, deter, and interdict anyone who might be trying to smuggle something into the country. This work involves investigating, locating, and disrupting threats of terrorism, drug smuggling, and human trafficking by air and sea along routes criminal organizations cut through treacherous waters to stop the approaching danger before it can arrive to shore.

“We are talking about narcotics, people, wildlife, you name it,” said Mann, “If it can be found or obtained in a foreign country and someone wants to bring it in, they have tried it or will try it here in South Florida by land or sea or air.”

CBP’s Air and Marine Operations work to detect, deter, and interdict anyone who might be trying to smuggle something into the country.
CBP’s Air and Marine Operations work to detect, deter, and interdict anyone who might be trying to smuggle something into the country. (U.S. Customs and Border Protection)

In its 2017 Annual Review U.S. Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine Operations states that, “our international staging sites are located on cocaine smuggling routes that move approximately 84 percent of all cocaine destined for the United States.”

Mann explained how they work with local, state, and federal agencies on investigations.

Gayle said in addition to being the nation’s experts in airborne and maritime law enforcement, their elite team of aviators and mariners also engage in humanitarian missions.

This has included search and rescue operations post Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. Most recently following the sweeping devastation of Hurricane Dorian to The Bahamas, Air and Marine Operations were one of the first agencies to reach Abaco Island. They rescued 52 people, airlifted more than 150 Bahamian and U.S. citizens from impacted areas to local shelters and hospitals in Nassau, delivered supplies and water, and transported first responders.

“The skill set of the operators of our boats and airplanes and the technology and the equipment that we use is greater than any other agency in the country and it allows us to do the law enforcement mission but it also allows us to do a humanitarian mission by being able to utilize those skills sets, that equipment, to benefit people,” said Mann.

Following the sweeping devastation of Hurricane Dorian to The Bahamas, Air and Marine Operations were one of the first agencies to reach Abaco Island.
Following the sweeping devastation of Hurricane Dorian to The Bahamas, Air and Marine Operations were one of the first agencies to reach Abaco Island. (U.S Customs and Border Protection)

BY THE NUMBERS:

U.S. Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine Operations: Miami Air and Marine Branch 2019 Stats:

  • Marijuana - 11,843 lbs
  • Cocaine - 2,934 lbs
  • Heroin -  17 lbs
  • Currency - $491,202.00
  • Weapons – 52
  • Vehicles – 5
  • Vessels – 23
  • Arrests – 149
  • Search and Rescue - 55

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