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.
2. The law enforcement teams are vulnerable while bunched up on their craft, so they have to approach quickly and carefully.
3. The team members control the suspect crew while they search for evidence of illegal activity. If nothing is found, the crew is released.
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.
5. Larger vessels can pose a greater danger since the teams are forced to scale the side of a potentially hostile craft.
6. The Coast Guard practices with partner law enforcement agencies and other military forces to make the boarding as quick and safe as possible.
7. If the crew fights the boarding, the Coast Guard TACLET or LEDET members are prepared to defend themselves and force their way in.
8. Larger vessels allow more room to hide illegal activity, but the Coast Guard has learned to search thoroughly.
9. They’ve had a lot of experience, after all.
10. Particularly enterprising smugglers have created special vessels, like “Go-fast boats” or submarines to smuggle illicit goods.
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.)
12. Any evidence collected is moved off the vessel to facilitate prosecution later.
13. When the Coast Guard cutters return from long tours, the total evidence collected can be literal tons of drugs.
14. Sometimes, the traffickers ditch their boats in an attempt to escape.
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.