Authorities say it's rare for any kind of drug, like these bales of cocaine seized by the Coast Guard in 2007, to simply wash up on shore. A couple found two packages of cocaine on a Dauphin Island beach over the weekend.
On Saturday, two beachgoers strolling near Dauphin Island’s West End discovered a pair of plastic-wrapped packages, each a little larger than a brick, containing cocaine.
Among the miscellanea that can wash up on beaches, drugs, usually bales of marijuana or blocks of cocaine, are rare, local police and federal officials say.
“It’s not common at all,” said Tom Wade, resident agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Agency’s Mobile office. “I would call it an anomaly.”
In fact, New Orleans-based U.S. Coast Guard investigators can cull only one other example from recent memory: a bale of marijuana that washed up near New Orleans, said Lt. James McKnight, a Mobile-based spokesman for the Coast Guard.
Sometimes local police departments will handle such cases in their jurisdictions. Not often, though, said Gulf Shores Police Chief Arthur Bourne.
“I can’t recall the last time it’s happened,” he said.
It might have been a Saturday in June 1993. A child found two kilos of cocaine about a mile east of the city’s main public beach. The next afternoon, two teenagers from Kentucky stumbled upon a similar surprise west of Little Lagoon pass.
“That’s probably the last one,” Bourne agreed.
Orange Beach officers were summoned a few years back to pick up a beached bale, said Police Chief Billy Wilkins. The chief couldn’t recall exactly when and where it washed up, but Wilkins remembered that the pot was worthless by the time it came ashore.
“It was so barnacled and nasty,” Wilkins said. “It probably had been floating out there for ages.”
Barnacles were also a characteristic of the last surf-borne bale that the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office was called to retrieve, said Maj. Anthony Lowery. That 50-pound package — a tangle of plastic, tape, rope and a mesh material — washed up in June 2004 along the Fort Morgan peninsula where a pair of vacationers found it.
Theories abound as to the origins of beached drug bundles. They could have been dropped from a boat or plane, intended for a recipient that never found them. They could have been tossed overboard by nervous smugglers. They may have floated from a sunken boat or downed plane.
“It doesn’t happen very often because it’s such a valuable product,” Lowery said. “People don’t throw it overboard unless they absolutely have to because they’re about to be caught.”
Wade said that smuggling patterns have shifted in recent decades from the Gulf to the interstates. “As best we can tell, actual marine smuggling into this area is very rare” he said.
The DEA agent said officials have no idea where the Dauphin Island kilos may have come from: “They could have come from anywhere, from miles and miles away.”
McKnight said that Coast Guard investigators intend to test the drugs to try to determine their origin. Beyond that, he said, investigators have little hope of figuring out how the cocaine came to coastal Alabama.
By Ryan Dezember
September 23, 2009