Coast Guard Seizes Submarine Stuffed with Cocaine

William Pentland
August 2, 2011

The U.S. Coast Guard reportedly seized nearly 15,000 pounds of cocaine from a submarine-like vessel off the Caribbean coast of Honduras on July 13th.

The cocaine, which was recovered by the crew of the Boston-based Coast Guard Cutter Seneca in mid-July, has an estimated street value of $180 million. The contraband had been stowed on a self-propelled semi-submersible vessel.

Authorities detained the vessel's crew and recovered some drugs before the boat sank, the Coast Guard said.

Several Coast Guard cutters, the Honduran Navy and FBI dive teams then used side-sonar equipment to search for the sunken submarine-like vessel, which was located on July 26. It took authorities about three days to recover the rest of the drugs from the sunken vessel.

The FBI Laboratory's Technical Dive Team from Quantico, Va., performed the underwater recovery.

"Working on a buoy deck is dangerous enough; but this unique mission involved blending dive operations, boat operations, and deck operations at the same time," said Lt. Cmdr. Peter Niles, commanding officer of the cutter Oak. "The equipment the FBI brought to the Oak and their dive teams were essential to locate the SPSS and recover its cargo."

Built in the FARC-controlled jungles of Colombia, the typical SPSS is less than 100 feet in length, with 4-5 crew members, and carrying up to 10 metric tons of illicit cargo for distances up to 5,000 miles. Drug traffickers design SPSS to rapidly sink when they detect law enforcement thereby making contraband recovery difficult. SPSS are responsible for the movement of nearly one-third of all cocaine in the transit zone.