‘We need that power’: New Interceptor vessels designed to stop smugglers built in Puget Sound

BELLINGHAM, Wash. -- Just north of the San Juan Islands, U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Air and Marine Operations patrol the water searching for smugglers. Agent Bill Scammell says ecstasy and methamphetamine flows south into the U.S. and other drugs are smuggled north into Canada.

“We are working a lot of cocaine north. We are working guns going north into Canada and we are working currency going both ways," Scammell said Thursday.

He patrols the area in aging Coastal Interceptor Vessels built for speed and high-performance. Between Bellingham and Port Angeles, there are several vessels used by agents.

“We need that power when we are in any kind of pursuit out here, just to maintain that tactical advantage,” said Scammell.

The next generation of Interceptors were designed and are now being built by workers in Bremerton at Safe Boats International. The company unveiled the first vessel last week.

“They can actually see their boat out on the water. They say I`m a part of that, I built that, and that`s a real honor,” said Safe Boats International CEO Dennis Morris. “We have a really incredibly proud workforce here.”

Homeland Security will first deploy the new vessels in smuggling hotspots all across the U.S., from Florida to San Diego. Safe Boats will build up to 52 of them at a cost of $48 million. U.S. Customs and Border Protection says each boat cost around $750,000 to build and will be equipped with $450,000 in equipment. The new Interceptors are designed to go upwards of 60 knots.

“It is really getting rave reviews from all my guys,” said Scammell.

The new vessels are expected to join Air and Marine Operations across the country in a couple of months. Initially, 17 of them will be deployed in high-risk areas based on smuggling trends. The new vessels will increase the fleet size and replace aging ones.

Eventually, one of them could end up patrolling around Bellingham not too far from where it was built.

“You can always hope. My fingers are crossed,” said Scammell.