Aug. 1, 2011 — -- The Coast Guard caught a narco submarine trying to smuggle $180 million worth of cocaine into the U.S., intercepting the drug vessel as her own crew tried to sink her off the coast of Honduras.
Coast Guard video shows the crew of the semi-submersible craft jumping off the boat and into a yellow life raft. As a Coast Guard boat comes alongside, the submarine can be seen quickly sinking into the Caribbean.
"It was immediately obvious to our boarding crew that the SPSS [self-propelled semi submersible vessel] was taking on water and was being scuttled by its crew," said Cmdr. Charles Fosse, commander of the Coast Guard cutter Seneca. "We recovered two packages and the SPSS sank seconds after that."
An FBI dive team later recovered 7.5 tons of cocaine from the boat. The interdiction was the first in the Western Caribbean; according to the Coast Guard, submarines are regularly used to move contraband in the Eastern Pacific.
According to the Coast Guard, the typical SPSS or narco submarine is less than 100 feet long, carries four to five crew members and up to 10 tons of cocaine. The vessels, which are often built in jungle areas of Colombia controlled by the guerilla group FARC, can travel up to 5,000 miles.
Drug traffickers design the vessels to that they can be sunk rapidly when threatened by law enforcement. The Seneca began searching for the sub when it sank on July 13, and was assisted by several other cutters and the Honduran Navy, but didn't locate its underwater resting place until July 26.
Lt. Cmdr. Peter Niles, commanding officer of the Coast Guard Cutter Oak, the ship that found the sunken sub, said he and his crew were "essentially looking for a needle in a haystack. But we had pretty good equipment to find that."
"And for about the last three days we have been removing the contraband," said Lt. Cmdr. Niles, "and presently we're at over 14,000 pounds of contraband."
Said Nies, "This is a once in a lifetime -- once in a career -- thing that happens. I've been here for 27 years and I've never been involved in a drug case like this."
The sub had been spotted on July 13 by a fixed wing aircraft, which then alerted the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The crew of a CBP patrol plane found the ship and then alerted the Seneca. The Seneca dispatched a smaller rescue boat and a helicopter to intercept the sub. The Coast Guard took the sub crew into custody after the interception, and then handed them off to authorities on shore. The case is under investigation, according to the Coast Guard.