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September 20, 2008

Coast Guard busts another "drug sub"

U.S. NAVY PHOTOGRAPH

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Midgett and a U.S. Navy maritime patrol aircraft teamed up to interdict a stateless, self-propelled, semi-submersible vessel Wednesday with seven tons of cocaine aboard approximately 400 miles south of the Mexico-Guatemala border.

It was the second Coast Guard interdiction of a so-called "drug sub" with a week.

The 60-foot, self-propelled, semi-submersible (SPSS) craft was detected by a U.S. Navy aircraft.

The aircraft vectored Midgett to the location of the SPSS whereupon the Coast Guard quickly commenced a boarding of the stateless SPSS.

The Coast Guard boarding team located 295 bales of cocaine, valued at more than $196 million, in a huge forward compartment.

The SPSS became unstable and began to sink during the transfer of the bales of cocaine from the SPSS to Midgett.

The condition of the vessel made it unsafe to tow and Midgett's crew sank the vessel as a hazard to navigation.

However, the U.S. does have possession of one of these craft seized just a few days earlier.

Wednesday's interdiction follows a daring nighttime boarding and seizure of another SPSS the previous Saturday in which the Coast Guard boarding team, embarked aboard the USS McInerney, surprised an SPSS under cover of darkness.

The four suspected smugglers on the SSPS attempted to throw the boarding team into the sea by reversing the vessel's engines suddenly, and attempted to scuttle it, but the boarding team compelled the smugglers to comply with orders to close the scuttling valves.

Seven tons of cocaine were seized from the SPSS and the USS McInerney took the 59-foot-long steel and fiberglass-hulled SPSS in tow.

The semisubmersibles are a growing problem. As of January 10, 2008, the Colombian Navy had either captured or caused the scuttling of 18 of the craft.

The semi-submersibles powered by a diesel engine, have a small "conning tower" above the water, providing the crew, and engine, with fresh air, and permitting the crew of three to four to navigate the boat.

Their proliferation appears to result from the drug gangs' difficulty in using aircraft as the U.S. has increased the sophistication of radar surveillance.

Although the semi-submersibles are not true submarines, the first indication that the smugglers were turning to the sea came in September 7, 2000, when the Colombian police seized a partially constructed, steel double-hulled vessel that apparently would have indeed been a submarine had construction been completed.


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