MIAMI — The U.S. Coast Guard has announced the
capture of a submarine-like vessel off the Honduran coast and the
seizure of some 15,000 pounds of cocaine with an estimated street value
of $180 million.
According to information released Monday by the Coast
Guard district headquartered in Miami, the crew of the Coast Guard
Cutter Seneca interdicted a drug-smuggling, self-propelled
semi-submersible vessel in the western Caribbean Sea on July 13.
The vessel was initially spotted by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection maritime patrol plane, officials said.
The semi-submersibles are typically built in the
jungles of Colombia and are less than 100 feet in length, authorities
said. They are usually used to carry a crew of four to five people and a
stash of thousands of pounds up drugs up to 5,000 miles. The
semi-submersibles are designed to rapidly sink when detected in order to
make it difficult for law enforcement to recover the drugs aboard.
Video released by the Coast Guard shows a pursuit
boat from the Boston-based Seneca encountering the semi-submersible in
the open waters and taking an unspecified number of crewmembers into
custody. The submarine-like vessel was sinking after being “scuttled by
its crew,” said Cmdr. Charles Fosse, the commanding officer of the
Seneca in an audio interview released by the Coast Guard.
Some drugs were recovered during the interdiction,
but it would take several days before the Coast Guard, working with the
Honduran Navy, could locate the sunken drug vessel.
Ultimately, the Coast Guard Cutter Oak was able to
use side-sonar equipment to guide the FBI Laboratory’s Technical Dive
Team from Quantico, Va., to the semi-submersible on the ocean floor.
The Oak’s commanding officer, Lt. Cmdr. Peter Niles,
described the process as a “needle in a haystack search,” but one that
paid off handsomely.
It took three days to remove the more than 200 bales of cocaine from the sunken vessel.
“This is once-in-a-career thing that happens,” said Niles, a 27-year veteran of the Coast Guard.
The case remains under investigation and the seized
drugs are being turned over to other U.S. law enforcement agencies for
disposition, the Coast Guard said.
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