U.S. Coast Guard and Navy seize 7 tons of cocaine valued at $8.4 Million

WASHINGTON — A U.S. Coast Guard law enforcement detachment embarked aboard the USS McInerney, seized a stateless, self-propelled, semi-submersible vessel Saturday with seven tons of cocaine aboard about 350 miles west of Guatemala in the waters of the Eastern Pacific Ocean.

The 59-foot, steel and fiberglass, self-propelled, semi-submersible (SPSS) craft was detected by a U.S. Navy aircraft. The aircraft vectored the USS McInerney to a position near the SPSS whereupon two small boats were launched from the McInerney. Coast Guard law enforcement detachment 404, under the cover of darkness, boarded the SPSS from the McInerney’s small boats, surprising the smugglers. When the smugglers realized the Coast Guard was on the deck of the SPSS, they reversed the engines at a high speed in an attempt to throw the boarding team into the sea. The smugglers also attempted to scuttle the SPSS but complied with orders from the boarding team to close the valves that were flooding the SPSS.

“This was the most dangerous operation of my career,” said Lt. j.g. Todd Bagetis, officer in charge of Coast Guard law enforcement detachment 404.

Boardings of SPSS craft are particularly hazardous because when loaded there is very little freeboard and when law enforcement is detected by the smugglers they open scuttling valves to flood the craft and send it, along with the evidence of smuggling, to the bottom of the ocean. This practice makes prosecution of smugglers difficult because the narcotics cannot be recovered to be used as evidence of narco-trafficking.

SPSS craft are becoming more sophisticated and capable. The craft seized Saturday is capable of traveling from South America to San Diego, Calif., without stopping for fuel or other supplies. The vessel was also reported to be equipped with state-of-the-art navigation and communication equipment.

It is in the light of this growing threat that the U.S. House of Representatives passed HR 6295 July 29, 2008. This bill, currently awaiting action by the Senate, would outlaw the operation of statelss SPSS craft on international voyages regardless of the presence of contraband.

A self-propelled, semi-submersible vessel seized by the U.S. Coast Guard with 7 tons of cocaine aboard waits to be taken in tow by the USS McInerney in the Eastern Pacific Ocean Saturday.  (U.S. Navy photo / Petty Officer 1st Class Nico Figueroa)

A self-propelled, semi-submersible vessel seized by the U.S. Coast Guard with 7 tons of cocaine aboard waits to be taken in tow by the USS McInerney in the Eastern Pacific Ocean Saturday. (U.S. Navy photo / Petty Officer 1st Class Nico Figueroa)

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