U.S. Coast Guard crews unloaded nearly three tons of cocaine -- worth about $55 million -- at Port Canaveral Tuesday after the 75-bale load was found at sea.

Coast Guard Cutter Tampa, based in Portsmouth, Va., pulled in more than 5,000 pounds of cocaine, after suspected drug smugglers ditched the contraband while making a getaway, U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer First Class Lauren Jorgensen said in a news release.

"We offloaded two and half tons of cocaine," said Lt. Heather Johanson of the Coast Guard. It took two dozen Coast Guard  people more than 15 minutes to unload. "The boat and its occupants made it back into Panamanian waters which we can't go into without authority from the Panamanian government."

The Coast Guard received information from a Canadian Maritime Patrol Aircraft alerting them to the suspected smugglers.  A helicopter crew from the Coast Guard Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron launched from the Tampa to stop the suspicious vessel. The boat then fled after dumping the cocaine.

"The entire operation ran like clockwork," said Cmdr. Susan Polizzotto, commanding officer of the Tampa. "The cutter and helicopter crews did exceptionally well on this important mission and we recognize the vital support of international partners that enables us to keep dangerous drugs off our streets."

The drug bust was part of Operation Martillo, a United States government effort to curb the movement of drugs, weapons and cash in Central American waters, according to the Coast Guard.

In early November, U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Vigilant, based in Port Canaveral, returned to port after an eight-week patrol as part of Operation Martillo. In that time, the crew seized more than 5,300 pounds of cocaine worth about $64 million.

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