If you traveled on the Alaska Marine Highway System earlier this month, you might have been welcomed into port by drug dogs.
From March 9-15, the U.S. Coast Guard, Coast Guard Investigative Service (CGIS), Alaska State Troopers and other organizations partnered together to randomly search ferries in Bellingham, Juneau, Ketchikan and Whittier, according to a Coast Guard press release.
They mainly searched for drugs, explosives and ammunition, Coast Guard Lt. Brian Dykens said. He said one ferry, the M/V Columbia, was searched in Juneau. There were no seizures of drugs and no arrests in Alaska, according to the release, but methamphetamine was seized in Bellingham.
Dykens said that while the State of Alaska runs the ferry system, it’s up to organizations including the Coast Guard, Troopers and others to police what happens on those vessels.
“Multiple agencies have jurisdiction about what goes on in the ferry systems,” Dykens said. “That’s why we did this joint effort to see how we could work together.”
Fourteen agencies (eight of them Coast Guard agencies) were listed on the release as having participated, including the Juneau Police Department. Coast Guard Maritime Safety and Security Team (MSST) San Francisco and MSST Seattle supplied canine teams. Troopers, Anchorage Airport Police and JPD also used their canine teams.
Authorities searched numerous individuals, according to the release, and searched six vehicles with the consent of their owners. Dykens said those vehicles were identified by the dogs picking up a scent from them. Authorities would then find the owners of the vehicles and ask their consent before going through the vehicles, he said.
Dykens said the opioid epidemic has been a motivating factor in wanting to do these searches, as it’s a nationwide issue that has reached Alaska. This search, he said, is one of the ways to see how much the ferry system is used to traffic these drugs.
Randy Thompson, the CGIS assistant special agent-in-charge for Alaska, concurred.
“The Coast Guard is committed to detecting and deterring illegal activity on Alaska’s waterways including the use or shipment of illicit drugs,” Thompson said in a release. “We appreciate and look forward to the continued support from our partner agencies in our fight against the opioid crisis.”
The CGIS, Troopers, JPD and Ketchikan Police Department are all members of the Southeast Alaska Cities Against Drugs (SEACAD) Task Force, which was formerly known as the Southeast Alaska Narcotics Enforcement Team (SEANET). It’s supported by the Statewide Drug Enforcement Unit.
These kinds of searches happen from time to time, and Dykens said they keep the timing of them as random as they can.
“People might see it happening again in the near future or down the line,” Dykens said.
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.