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Gotcha! U.S. Coast Guard Plays Cat and Mouse With Narco Subs

A U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Stratton boarding team investigates a ‘narco sub’ that was interdicted in international waters off the coast of Central America on July 19. (Image: U.S. Coast Guard)
A U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Stratton boarding team investigates a ‘narco sub’ that was interdicted in international waters off the coast of Central America on July 19. (Image: U.S. Coast Guard)

Last month, the U.S. Coast Guard seized a 40-foot semi-submersible vessel (a.k.a. a “narco sub”) that was carrying cocaine worth around US$181 million.

The 16,000 pounds of cocaine makes it the largest seizure to date from a narco sub used by a South American drug cartel.

Members of the Coast Guard Cutter Stratton also arrested four suspected smugglers manning the “homemade” vessel.

Appearing like something out of a Jules Verne story, the narco sub that you see in the below video was first detected from the air 200 miles south of Mexico on July 18.

After removing 12,000 pounds of the narcotics, the vessel was towed until it began taking on water. It ended up sinking in over 13,000 feet of water with around a ton of cocaine left inside it.

A U.S. Coast Guard statement said the cocaine was left inside to help stabilize the semi-submersible during the tow.

The drugs are considered unrecoverable.

The Coast Guard said another semi-submersible was caught in mid-June, and this vessel was carrying 5,460 pounds of cocaine.

Coast Guard Cutter Stratton crewmembers secure cocaine bales from a narco sub on July 19. The Coast Guard recovered more than 6 tons of cocaine from the 40-foot vessel. (Image: U.S. Coast Guard)

Coast Guard Cutter Stratton crewmembers secure cocaine bales from a narco sub on July 19. The Coast Guard recovered more than 6 tons of cocaine from the 40-foot vessel. (Image: U.S. Coast Guard)

In stopping seaborne drug trafficking, the Coast Guard works with the U.S. Navy who both cooperate with authorities in Central America.

There have been 25 known semi-submersible interdictions in the Eastern Pacific Ocean since November 2006.

Low-tech mini submarines

These semi-submersible are built purposefully for trafficking cocaine or marijuana by transnational organized criminal networks. They have been used since the 1990s, and they’re popular with drug cartels in Colombia to get their drugs to Mexico.

A narco sub towed alongside the U.S. Coast Guard Cuttter Jarvis in the Eastern Pacific off the coast of Central America, Oct. 21, 2009. (Image: U.S. Coast Guard)

A narco sub towed alongside the U.S. Coast Guard Cuttter Jarvis in the Eastern Pacific off the coast of Central America, Oct. 21, 2009. (Image: U.S. Coast Guard)

The Coast Guard says semi-submersibles are extremely difficult to detect and interdict because of their low-profile and ability to scuttle. Their compact size also makes them hard to spot on radar. They cost criminal gangs over a million dollars each to make.

Increasingly, criminal organizations are using the sea, in preference to land-smuggling routes, to get their drugs into the U.S.

According to a U.S. Foreign Military Studies Office report, around 30 per cent of drugs smuggled through maritime routes are done through narco-submarines, says The Telegraph.

U.S. Coast Guard crewmembers inspect a narco sub in the Eastern Pacific off the coast of Central America Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2009.  (Image: U.S. Coast Guard)

U.S. Coast Guard crewmembers inspect a narco sub in the Eastern Pacific off the coast of Central America Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2009. (Image: U.S. Coast Guard)

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