Large Loads of Drugs Keep Surfacing in the Keys

US Border Patrol

By Crystal Harlan

September 29, 2023

Smugglers dump drugs in the water when they see Coast Guard or Customs and Border Patrol crews approaching.

Boaters in the Florida Keys have found several large loads of cocaine, hashish, and marijuana floating in the waters in separate incidents over recent months.

While the importation of illegal drugs into South Florida is nothing new, there appears to be an increase in these discoveries.

Over the summer, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, a former police officer, found 70 pounds of cocaine floating in the ocean while on a fishing trip to the Keys with her family.

“My younger brother saw some debris in the water, and so we went over there because, quite often, if you fish, the smaller fish will go under any kind of shade they can get. That attracts the larger fish, like triple tail,” Castor told The Miami Herald.

“We thought it was shade as opposed to something shady. But, you know, the closer we got and once I saw the rip in it and see the tightly wrapped packages, I was like definitely that’s a bale of cocaine.”

The US Border Patrol estimated that the total street value of the load was $1.1 million. According to local and federal authorities, Castor’s discovery marks the fifth large load of illegal drugs found by boaters in the waters off the Keys in July.

More loads of illegal drugs were found in August and September. And in January, $2.3 million worth of cocaine washed ashore in the Keys.

RELATED: Are Florida Sharks High on Cocaine? Discovery Channel Is Looking Into It.

Smugglers dump drugs overboard when they see Coast Guard or Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine Patrol crews approaching.

Eric Weindorf, special agent in charge for the Miami area of the US Department of Homeland Security Investigations, believes the increase in drugs dumped in the waters is tied to a rise in migration from Cuba and Haiti to the Keys at the end of 2022 and beginning of 2023.

“We do have intelligence and we do have investigations that indicate some of these same individuals that are involved in smuggling migrants are also engaged in smuggling narcotics,” Weindorf told the Miami Herald.

Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay doesn’t agree with that theory. “I don’t see any correlation between the two,” he told the newspaper. “People are either drug smugglers or they are alien smugglers. The two combined are so rare.”

The good news is that so far law enforcement says they are not seeing much fentanyl coming into Florida through the maritime border, the Miami Herald reported. Out of the more than 110,000 people in the United States who died of drug overdoses in 2022, 70% involved synthetic opioids like fentanyl, according to data from the Drug Enforcement Administration.


  • Crystal Harlan

    Crystal is a bilingual editor and writer with over 20 years of experience in digital and print media. She is currently based in Florida, but has lived in small towns in the Midwest, Caracas, New York City, and Madrid, where she earned her MA in Spanish literature.



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