Marine Log

USCG Photograph

November 22, 2006

Submarine was a Cigarette

Last week, the crew of the U. S. Coast Guard Cutter Steadfast boarded and seized what a USCG release described as a "semi-submersible craft." That got translated into "submarine" in most media reports.

"Tipped off by three plastic pipes mysteriously skimming the ocean's surface, authorities seized a homemade submarine packed with three tons of cocaine off Costa Rica's Pacific coast," reported USA Today.

The newspaper quoted Costa Rica's Security Minister as saying that four men traveled inside the 50-foot wood and fiberglass craft, breathing through the pipes. The craft sailed along at about 7 mph, just six feet beneath the surface."

Not quite so, it seems. The vessel did carry cocaine (3.5 tons) and its crew of four -- two Colombians, one Guatemalan, and one Sri Lankan -- were taken into custody and will face prosecution in the U. S. The vessel was towed into port by the Costa Rican Coast Guard and will be also be brought to the U. S. as evidence.

But any submersibility seems to have been unintentional.

Reuters reports that Costa Rican Coast Guard commander Rodrigo Peralta now says the 45-foot (14-meter) craft was a cigarette boat that had an ocean-colored fiberglass covering intended as camouflage.

The boat rode low in the water because of the weight of the cocaine but did not actually submerge, said Peralta.

"It was covered with lead lamination to conceal it from radar," said Peralta.

The tubes protruding from the boat turned out to be exhaust pipes rather than snorkels.