The US Coast Guard stopped and seized a self-propelled semi-submersible carrying 12,800 pounds of cocaine with an estimated value of roughly $200 million on March 3.
The semi-submersible, sometimes called a narco submarine, was detected by US Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine Operations agents aboard a P-3 Orion Long Range Tracker on March 2. Notified by the AMO, the Coast Guard intercepted the drug-laden craft 300 miles southwest of Panama in the Pacific Ocean and arrested four suspects.
Coast Guardsmen were able to enter the vessel several times to recover contraband and evidence, including a loaded gun. The Coast Guard release and a release by the CBP on March 24 gave differing amounts for the cargo’s value — $203 million and $193.9 million, respectively.
The CBP also said the craft became unstable and sank after it was intercepted.
“Transnational organised crime groups continue to adjust their tactics to avoid detection indicated by a recent rise in the use of SPSS vessels,” Vice Adm. Charles Ray, commander of the Coast Guard Pacific Area, said in a release.
Semi-submersibles used for smuggling are usually built to travel just below the surface, with just an exhaust pipe, a wheelhouse, and an airstack emerging from the water, according to Vice News. The vessels are often camouflaged, and many of them are constructed in Colombia, a major hub for cocaine production.
In 2012, 80% of the illegal drugs smuggled to the US came on maritime routes, and 30% of the illegal drugs delivered to US shores via the sea were carried on narco submarines, according to a 2014 study cited by Vice News.
This is the second semi-submersible seized by the Coast Guard in Fiscal Year 2016 (October 1, 2015 to September 30, 2016), after intercepting a vessel 280 miles southwest of the Mexico-Guatemala border. The suspects in the case were able to sink their craft, but the Coast Guard apprehended them.
It’s also the fifth semi-submersible vessel captured by the Coast Guard since June 2015. So far in Fiscal Year 2016, Coast Guardsmen have seized 201,000 pounds of cocaine.
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