Image: Huge cocaine haul
Jeff Chiu  /  AP
U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Danielle Desvergers looks through some of the more than 40,000 pounds of cocaine — worth an estimated $500 million — offloaded from Coast Guard Cutter Sherman at Coast Guard Island in Alameda, Calif., on Monday.
updated 4/25/2007 12:09:09 PM ET 2007-04-25T16:09:09

The Coast Guard began unloading more than 40,000 pounds of cocaine seized from three ships off the Central American coast, much of it from a single bust considered the largest in U.S. maritime history.

Coast Guard officers had boarded a 330-foot ship heading north off the Pacific coast of Panama last month and discovered about 38,000 pounds of cocaine in two shipping containers, officials said. It was the largest single sea-based seizure of cocaine by a U.S. agency, said Coast Guard Petty Officer Brian Leshak.

Crews unloaded the cocaine Monday at a port in California, along with cocaine from two other busts. In one, also last month off Panama, a Coast Guard cutter chased down a speedboat carrying about 2,000 pounds of cocaine, officials said.

The other bust was in February and involved an Ecuadorian-flagged fishing vessel that allegedly had been loading cocaine into speedboats off Mexico’s coast. The fishing vessel’s crew set fire to their ship and tried to flee in the speedboats but were caught, the Coast Guard said. About 900 pounds of cocaine were seized there.

The cocaine, with an estimated street value of $500 million, will be turned over the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, which will take the drugs to Miami to be destroyed, Leshak said.

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