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Navy to Send Ship on Drug Patrols After Four-Month Hiatus

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USS Rentz (FFG-46) in 2009. US Navy Photo

USS Rentz (FFG-46) in 2009. US Navy Photo

The U.S. Navy will resume patrols for drug runners in the Caribbean and the Eastern Pacific after an almost four month hiatus due to budget cuts, Navy officials told USNI News on Monday.

Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate USS Rentz (FFG-46) is set to travel to U.S. Southern Command in August for a six-month deployment, Navy 4th Fleet’s Lt. Cmdr. Corey Barker told USNI News.

Rentz, based at Naval Station San Diego, Calif., will support of Operation Martillo (Spanish for hammer), an ongoing effort led by SOUTHCOM’s Joint Interagency Task Force South, 4th Fleet and partner nations to interdict drug smugglers.

In March, the Navy announced it would pull two frigates from SOUTHCOM as a result of ongoing budget battles brought on by the so-called sequestration cuts and a Continuing Resolution.

The service pulled USS Gary (FFG-51) and USS Thach (FFG-43) from service in SOUTHCOM citing the budget impasse while maintaining flights of Navy P-3 Orion reconnaissance aircraft based in El Salvador.

Since the departure of the ships, JIATF South has relied heavily on the U.S. Coast Guard to fill in the gaps the Navy left behind.

The Coast Guard is integral in interdiction drugs in SOUTHCOM, as service’s Law Enforcement Teams provide Navy ships with the legal basis to hold suspected drug runners.

The absence of the frigates put further strain on the Coast Guard.

“We already don’t have enough surface assets down there to interdict all of the drugs that are smuggled from South America into North America,” Papp said in March.

“We don’t have enough [cutters] to meet the demand JIATF South has for us.”

While in SOUTHCOM, Rentz will participate in the multi-national UNITAS 2013 naval exercise as well as Operation Martillo.

Since Operation Martillo’s start in Jan. 2012, “JIATF South has disrupted the disruption of 208 metric tons of cocaine and 17 metric tons of marijuana. This amount of cocaine and marijuana represents over $4 billion in gross profit denied to transnational criminal organizations operating in the JIATF South Joint Operating Area,” read a Monday SOUTHCOM statement provided to USNI News.