Feds Nab Suspected Cocaine Smugglers in Pacific

U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced Wednesday that it stopped a vessel allegedly smuggling an estimated five metric tons of cocaine, worth an estimated $353 million.

Authorities arrested four suspected smugglers Monday, but not before they apparently intentionally sank the semi-submersible vessel. A Coast Guard detachment made the arrests and recovered 11 bales containing 1,210 pounds of cocaine. More than four metric tons of cocaine are believed to have gone down with the watercraft.

A CBP P-3 Orion aircraft, based in Jacksonville, Fla., began tracking the semi-sub Monday, after the crew noticed the suspicious vessel while conducting a routine patrol in the Pacific Ocean. The crew spotted the sub about 300 miles southwest of the Mexico-Guatemala border.

"The P-3 aircraft then guided a U.S. Navy ship to the scene as the suspects scuttled the vessel along with the majority of the contraband aboard," a CBP statement said. The Coast Guard then moved in to make the arrests and seize the cocaine.

CBP's Office of Air and Marine maintains P-3 aircraft for transit zone surveillance needs in Corpus Christi, Texas, in addition to its Jacksonville, Fla., base at Cecil Field. According to CBP, the Jacksonville operations center has confiscated more than 32 metric tons of cocaine, with a street value of $2.2 billion, so far this fiscal year. The aircraft are also in use by the CBP in Central and South America.

In March, the Coast Guard announced that it made the largest maritime cocaine bust in U.S. history. The Panamanian ship stopped in that bust was allegedly carrying more than 40,000 pounds of the narcotic – or approximately 20 tons.