Coast Guard Nabs Another “Drug Submarine”

The Coast Guard announced yesterday that two of its cutter ships intercepted another “drug sub”—the 30th in six years—in the Western Caribbean on March 30, with help from the Honduran Navy. The news was kept quiet until the four suspects taken from the sub could be brought to Miami to be charged. Neither the “self-propelled semi-submersible” (SPSS) nor its cargo were recovered. According to a Coast Guard press release, “During the interdiction, the drug sub sank in thousands of feet of water, an act that is common as drug traffickers design their vessels to be difficult to spot and rapidly sink when they detect law enforcement.”

Drug subs first started popping up in the Eastern Pacific in 2006; of the 30 such crafts intercepted by the Coast Guard since then, 25 were spotted in the Pacific, and five in the Caribbean. Built in the jungles of South America, the typical SPSS is about 100 feet long, accommodates a crew of four to five, and has a capacity of up to 10 metric tons and a range of up to 5,000 miles. Retired Army General Barry McCaffrey, the former U.S. drug czar, told the Miami Herald that when he first heard of drug subs, he thought it was “the silliest thing I ever heard of in my life.” But now, with the first four crafts captured in the Caribbean having yielded nearly $700 million in cocaine (these subs were scuttled in shallow water, allowing divers to recover the cargo), it has become clear to McCaffery that drug subs have “turned into another way to do multi-load tons with a fairly low chance of being detected,” given that they do not show up on radar. He added, “The submersible has clearly turned into a preferred delivery system.”

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