Coast Guard interdicts semi-submersible vessel in Caribbean Sea

Coast Guard District 7 NewsMIAMI — The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Mohawk, a medium-endurance cutter homeported in Key West, Fla., interdicted a drug smuggling, self-propelled semi-submersible (SPSS) vessel, commonly referred to as a drug sub, in the Western Caribbean Sea, Sept. 30, 2011.

The total interdiction is approximately seven tons and valued at nearly $180 million wholesale. The crew of the Mohawk stopped two SPSS vessels in 13 days. Used regularly to transport illegal narcotics in the Eastern Pacific, this interdiction is only the third Coast Guard interdiction of an SPSS in the Caribbean. The Coast Guard’s first interdiction of a drug smuggling, SPSS vessel in the Western Caribbean Sea happened July 13.

The crew of a maritime patrol aircraft deployed in support of Joint Interagency Task Force South operations in the Caribbean spotted a suspicious vessel and notified the Mohawk crew of the location.

The Mohawk-based Coast Guard helicopter crew and pursuit boatcrew interdicted the SPSS and detained its crew. The SPSS sank during the interdiction along with the contraband.

The crewmembers of the Coast Guard Cutter Cypress, a sea-going buoy tender, homeported in Mobile, Ala., commenced searching for the sunken SPSS Oct. 17. Coast Guard crews and the FBI Laboratory’s Technical Dive Team, located at Quantico, Va., conducted multiple search patterns. The SPSS was located by the dive crew, Oct. 19.

“The interdiction of a third SPSS in the Caribbean brings to a close an extremely successful fiscal year for the Coast Guard here in Southeast U.S. and Caribbean,” said Rear Adm. Bill Baumgartner, commander of the 7th Coast Guard District. “Working with our interagency and international partners, we detained 98 smugglers and prevented 60,064 pounds of cocaine and 4,412 pounds of marijuana with a combined street value of $727 million from reaching our streets. Although we have been finding highly creative and innovative ways to make our counter drug mission successful, we continued to be challenged by the maintenance requirements and limited capabilities of our aging fleet of larger ships. One of the greatest limitations to our success is the availability of large cutters to patrol the transit zones and new cutters, designed to patrol far offshore in District Seven, will ensure we continue to detect threats at greater distances from U.S. shores and meet the demands of our robust counter-drug mission.”

Built in the jungles and remote areas of South America, the typical SPSS is less than 100 feet in length, with four to five crewmembers and carries up to 10 metric tons of illicit cargo for distances up to 5,000 miles. Drug traffickers design SPSS vessels to be difficult to spot and rapidly sink when they detect law enforcement, thereby making contraband recovery difficult.

“This is the second self-propelled semi-submersibles case for this crew and I am extremely proud we were able to stop millions of dollars of cocaine from reaching the streets of America,” said Cmdr. Mark Fedor, Coast Guard Cutter Mohawk’s commanding officer. “They are a significant threat to our nation and throughout Central and South America because they can smuggle massive amounts of narcotics as well as other illicit goods or people, and we will continue to be out here and stand a vigilant watch.”

The U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Navy, Customs and Border Protection and partner nation aircraft and vessel crews work together to conduct counter-drug patrols in the Caribbean.

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