Two large Coast Guard cutters chased down the self-propelled semi-submersible March 30. The sub's crew scuttled the craft, sending what intelligence officials estimate to be several tons of drugs to the bottom, shortly before being taken into custody. The bow of the sub, painted with shark's teeth, slipped beneath the surface of the water about 150 miles north of Honduras.
The incident was kept a secret until the four suspected smugglers could be brought ashore to be held pending charges in U.S. District Court in Miami. Their names have not been released.
The Miami Herald reported tales of such smuggling crafts surfaced in the 1990s and at the time were not taken seriously by the U.S. government. Since then, the Coast Guard has intercepted 30 of them. When smugglers would scuttle the crafts, the Coast Guard would send divers to retrieve sealed bricks of cocaine worth millions of dollars.
Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey was in charge of the Pentagon's U.S. Southern Command from 1994 to 1996 and later went on to become the U.S. drug czar from 1996 to 2001. He remembers the first report of a drug smuggling sub.
"The first one we found was on the Pacific Coast," he told the Herald. "It was Colombian. They had two Russian engineers, probably just unemployed sub guys helping to design the thing -- and I thought it was the silliest thing I heard of in my whole life."
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