ALAMEDA - ALAMEDA, Calif. (KTVU) – The U.S. Coast Guard seized a self-propelled submarine-like vessel carrying more than 16,000 pounds of cocaine in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, authorities announced Wednesday.
Officials said the seizure was the largest recorded semi-submersible interdiction in Coast Guard history.
The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Stratton from Alameda also apprehended four suspected smugglers.
The 275 bales of cocaine seized have a wholesale value of more than $181 million.
The cutter was directed to the submarine-like vessel more than 200-miles south of Mexico by a U.S. Navy maritime patrol aircraft.
The 40-foot vessel was constructed for illicit trafficking and was mostly submerged with just a cockpit and exhaust pipe visible above water.
“Our success intercepting this drug-laden, self-propelled semi-submersible is a testament to the collaboration of our partner agencies, and demonstrates the importance of our increased presence in the Western Hemisphere,” said Vice Adm. Charles W. Ray, commander, Pacific Area in prepared statement.
“Every interception of these semi-submersibles disrupts transnational organized crime networks and helps increase security and stability in the Western Hemisphere.”
After removing 12,000 pounds of the narcotics aboard, the crew attempted to tow the vessel to shore as evidence. However, the semi-submersible began taking on water and sank.
Officials said that a approximately 4,000 pounds of cocaine left inside the vessel to stabilize it during the towing evolution sank in over 13,000-feet of water and was determined to be unrecoverable.
It was the second time in more than two months that the Cutter Stratton intercepted a submarine-like vessel.
On June 16th, the crew seized a vessel carrying 5,460 pounds of cocaine.
This was the first interdiction of two semi-submersibles in a single patrol at sea where Coast Guardsmen recovered both the narcotics and the vessels. Coast Guardsmen from the Cutter Mohawk from Key West, Florida, interdicted two semisubmersibles in the Caribbean in 2011; however, both vessels sank during the course of the interdiction.
There have been 25 known semi-submersible interdictions in the Eastern Pacific Ocean since November 2006 when the first documented interdiction occurred.