U.S. agencies stop semi-submersible, seize 12,000 pounds of cocaine

A Coast Guard Cutter Stratton boarding team investigates a self-propelled semi-submersible interdicted in international waters off the coast of Central America, July 19, 2015. The Stratton’s crew recovered more than 6 tons of cocaine from the 40-foot vessel. (Coast Guard photo courtesy of Petty Officer 2nd Class LaNola Stone)

A Coast Guard Cutter Stratton boarding team investigates a self-propelled semi-submersible interdicted in international waters off the coast of Central America, July 19, 2015.(Coast Guard byPetty Officer 2nd Class LaNola Stone)

ALAMEDA, Calif. – The U.S. Coast Guard seized a self-propelled semi-submersible vessel carrying more than 16,000 pounds of cocaine in the Eastern Pacific Ocean  July 18.

The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Stratton from Alameda apprehended four suspected smugglers and seized 275 bales of cocaine worth more than $181 million wholesale from the self-propelled semi-submersible. A  U.S. Navy maritime patrol aircraft detected the 40-foot semi-submersible vessel more than 200-miles south of Mexico.

“Our success intercepting this drug-laden, self-propelled semi-submersible is a testament to the collaboration of our partner agencies, and demonstrates the importance of our increased presence in the Western Hemisphere,” said Vice Adm. Charles W. Ray, commander, Pacific Area. “Every interception of these semi-submersibles disrupts transnational organized crime networks and helps increase security and stability in the Western Hemisphere.”

After removing 12,000 pounds of the narcotics aboard, the crew of Stratton attempted to tow the vessel to shore as evidence; however, the semi-submersible began taking on water and sank. Approximately 4,000 pounds of cocaine left in the SPSS vessel to stabilize it during the towing evolution sank in over X,XXX-feet of water and is unrecoverable.

The crew of the Cutter Stratton interdicted or disrupted 15 different drug smuggling attempts since April including another self-propelled semi-submersible vessel carrying 5,460 pounds of cocaine June 16. Coast Guardsmen aboard Stratton have seized more than 33,000 pounds of cocaine worth more than $540 million wholesale since May 2015.

The July 18 semi-submersible seizure is the largest recorded semi-submersible interdiction in Coast Guard history. Stratton’s semi-submersible busts are also the first and second by a Legend Class Cutter, the Coast Guard’s newest and most capable vessels.

This is the first interdiction of two semi-submersibles in a single patrol at sea where Coast Guardsmen recovered both the narcotics and the vessels. Coast Guardsmen from the Coast Guard Cutter Mohawk from Key West, Florida, interdicted two semisubmersibles in the Caribbean in 2011; however, both vessels sank during the course of the interdiction.

There have been 25 known semi-submersible interdictions in the Eastern Pacific Ocean since November 2006 when the first documented interdiction occurred. A semi-submersible is a vessel constructed for illicit trafficking that is mostly submerged with just a cockpit and exhaust pipe visible above water. These vessels are extremely difficult to detect and interdict because of their low-profile and ability to scuttle.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office of Air and Marine also assisted by monitoring the semi-submersible using a maritime patrol aircraft during the course of the interdiction July 18.

Transnational Organized Networks in the Western Hemisphere draw immense profits from drug trafficking, terrorism, human smuggling, weapons trafficking, piracy, environmental crime, intellectual property theft, and cyber-crime. As these well funded illicit networks broaden their activities, they could become mechanisms to be employed by terrorist organizations located in Central and South America.

The Coast Guard’s leadership role in Western Hemisphere security and prosperity is critical in the fight against TOCs active in the Western Hemisphere as continually strained national security resources are stretched across the globe.

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