Caribbean Drug Sub Bust and Underwater Recovery

I had read about drug smugglers getting more sophisticated and using “purpose built” vessels to illude the authorities, but this is the first video I had seen of one.

MIAMI – The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Seneca, a medium-endurance cutter homeported in Boston, interdicted a drug smuggling, self-propelled semi-submersible (SPSS) vessel in the western Caribbean Sea.

Used regularly to transport illegal narcotics in the Eastern Pacific, this interdiction is the first of an SPSS in the Caribbean and the first underwater drug removal of an SPSS.

A U.S. Customs and Border Protection maritime patrol airplane spotted the SPSS while on patrol and alerted the Seneca crew of the location.

With the assistance of the Customs and Border Patrol airplane, a Seneca-based Coast Guard helicopter crew and pursuit boatcrew interdicted the SPSS and detained its crew. The SPSS sank during the interdiction, but not before a quantity of cocaine was recovered.

The Seneca crewmembers commenced searching for the sunken SPSS . Several Coast Guard Cutters, the Honduran Navy and FBI dive teams conducted multiple search patterns. The SPSS was located by the crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Oak using side-sonar equipment.

“The U.S. Coast Guard greatly appreciates the support and cooperation of the Honduran authorities as we worked together to recover the drugs from the sunken SPSS,” said Capt. Brendan McPherson, Seventh Coast Guard District chief of enforcement. “In addition, the technical expertise of the FBI dive team was instrumental in the success of this unique operation in international waters, far from U.S. shores, that ultimately prevented tons of cocaine from reaching our streets and neighborhoods.”

The FBI Laboratory’s Technical Dive Team from Quantico, Va., was able to recover nearly 15,000 pounds of contraband worth an estimated street value of $180 million from the sunken SPSS.

Built in the FARC-controlled jungles of Colombia, the typical SPSS is less than 100 feet in length, with 4-5 crewmembers, and carrying up to 10 metric tons of illicit cargo for distances up to 5,000 miles. Drug traffickers design SPSS to rapidly sink when they detect law enforcement thereby making contraband recovery difficult. SPSS are responsible for the movement of nearly one-third of all cocaine in the transit zone.

The U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Navy, Customs and Border Protection, Joint Interagency Task Force South, and partner nation aircraft and vessels work together to conduct counter drug patrols in the Caribbean.

The case is under investigation. The contraband will be turned over later to other U.S. law enforcement agencies for disposition.


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