The US Coast Guard’s highest ranking officer made a surprise visit to Cutter Bertholf Tuesday to recognize a Coast Guardsman for his role in two drug busts off the Colombia coast.
The Commandant of the Coast Guard Adm. Paul Zukunft recognized Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew Baasch, a gunner’s mate aboard the Cutter Bertholf, for his actions during two counter narcotics operations off Colombia June 28 and July 20. Baasch’s direct involvement resulted in the seizure of more than 7,450 pounds of cocaine with an import value of more than $113 million and the apprehension of six suspected smugglers.
During the first drug bust, Cutter Bertholf came across the Costa Rican-flagged fishing vessel Goliat I in international waters June 28. Costa Rica gave the Coast Guard crew permission to board the vessel. Boarding parties from the Cutter Bertholf including a team led by Baasch conducted a search of the vessel that lasted several days. The team located more than 5,900 pounds of cocaine hidden in the vessel’s fuel tank and detained four suspected smugglers.
Baasch and the crew of Bertholf intercepted the fishing vessel Jandry in international waters about 90-miles northwest of Colombia during the second bust July 20. The vessel’s flag-state could not be determined so the Coast Guard boarded it to investigate. Narcotics testing kits picked up traces of cocaine on the vessel, and a team from Bertholf led by Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew Baasch began an extensive search of the boat’s compartments. Baasch and his team found more than 1,550 pounds of cocaine hidden throughout the vessel.
Bertholf returned home from a 140-day counter narcotics deployment off the coast of Central and South America Aug. 11. Bertholf is the first of eight planned national security cutters, the service’s newest, most capable cutter and was built in Pascagoula, Miss., at Northrop Grumman Ship Systems.