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Drug-running submarine seized in the Caribbean – a Coast Guard first

$180 million worth of cocaine in a semisubmersible vessel was seized off Honduras two weeks ago, the Coast Guard said. It was the first such craft, until now used along the Pacific coast, to be spotted in the Caribbean.

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Facing stepped up drug interdiction efforts on the Pacific coast, Colombian cocaine smugglers appear to be shifting tactics, attempting to use semisubmersible vessels in the Caribbean Sea to transport their illicit cargo.

On Monday, the US Coast Guard announced that it had intercepted 15,000 pounds of cocaine – worth $180 million – in a semisubmersible vessel intercepted two weeks ago off the coast of Honduras.

The submarinelike boats have been used with increasing frequency in recent years to transport multiton quantities of cocaine up the Pacific coast from Colombia. The seizure off the east coast of Honduras marks the first time such a vessel has been seen in the Caribbean, officials said.

The semisubmersible vessels are believed to have been constructed on the banks of jungle rivers in Colombia. They are built of fiberglass and wood, and designed to sit low in the water to avoid radar detection. The boats are painted to blend in with the sea surface. They have no registration numbers, no identifying insignia, and no running lights. Most important, they are built with scuttling valves that allow the captain and crew to sink the vessel within moments of being detected by authorities.

The idea is to destroy the evidence in deep international waters and allow the Coast Guard to provide the wet captain and crew a ride to safety.

That was apparently the plan on July 13 when Coast Guard officials in a helicopter and pursuit boat approached the semisubmersible vessel in the Caribbean. Within moments of the contact, the crew emerged onto the open deck of the boat. Three crew members got into an inflatable raft. The remaining crew members were taken aboard the Coast Guard pursuit boat.

Officials recovered two cocaine packages from the boat as it was sinking and one other package that floated to the surface after it sank.

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