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15 photos that show how the Coast Guard fights drug smugglers and pirates

It's ironic that the Coast Guard's derogatory nickname is "puddle pirates" since it's one of the few agencies in the U.S. that actually gets called on to fight modern pirates.


Anti-piracy, along with anti-narcotics missions, are often handled by the Coast Guard's Law Enforcement Detachments, or LEDETS, and Tactical Law Enforcement Teams, or TACLETs.

These Guardians are deployed on Coast Guard cutters as well as U.S. or allied Navy ships. From there, they are sent to board and search vessels where the crew are suspected of committing a crime, generally piracy or the smuggling or drugs, humans, or money.

Here's how the Coast Guard catches the bad guys on the high seas:

1. Once Navy or Coast Guard intelligence has identified and approached a suspect vessel, LEDET or TACLETs move in.

Photo: US Navy Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Cassandra Thompson

2. The law enforcement teams are vulnerable while bunched up on their craft, so they have to approach quickly and carefully.

Photo: US Navy Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Cassandra Thompson

3. The team members control the suspect crew while they search for evidence of illegal activity. If nothing is found, the crew is released.

Photo: US Navy Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Cassandra Thompson

4. In this case, the crew was arrested on piracy charges and their craft was destroyed. Ships can also be towed to port when necessary.

Photo: US Navy Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Cassandra Thompson

5. Larger vessels can pose a greater danger since the teams are forced to scale the side of a potentially hostile craft.

Photo: courtesy US Coast Guard

6. The Coast Guard practices with partner law enforcement agencies and other military forces to make the boarding as quick and safe as possible.

Photo: courtesy US Coast Guard

7. If the crew fights the boarding, the Coast Guard TACLET or LEDET members are prepared to defend themselves and force their way in.

Photo: US Coast Guard PA2 Allyson Taylor Feller

8. Larger vessels allow more room to hide illegal activity, but the Coast Guard has learned to search thoroughly.

Photo: courtesy US Coast Guard

9. They've had a lot of experience, after all.

Photo: courtesy US Coast Guard

10. Particularly enterprising smugglers have created special vessels, like "Go-fast boats" or submarines to smuggle illicit goods.

Photo: Youtube/U.S. Coast Guard

11. The Coast Guard maintains mobile labs that can be used to test suspect substances. (Like powdered substances hidden in garbage bags crammed into secret compartments are ever flour.)

Photo: US Coast Guard PA1 Telfair Brown

12.  Any evidence collected is moved off the vessel to facilitate prosecution later.

Photo: courtesy US Coast Guard

13. When the Coast Guard cutters return from long tours, the total evidence collected can be literal tons of drugs.

Photo: US Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Luke Pinneo

READ MORE: A single Coast Guard ship captured 15 tons of cocaine this year >

14. Sometimes, the traffickers ditch their boats in an attempt to escape.

Photo: courtesy US Coast Guard

15. The drugs are cast out, forcing the Coast Guard to search for and recover as much evidence as they can before it dissolves or sinks.

Photo: Courtesy US Coast Guard