U.S. Coast Guard members board a self-propelled semi-submersible, or SPSS, vessel in search of cocaine smuggled from Central America. Photo by U.S. Coast Guard/UPI
SAN DIEGO, Oct. 28 (UPI) -- The U.S. Coast Guard seized more than 5,600 pounds of cocaine from a custom-built, drug-running submarine, it announced at its naval base in San Diego.
The vessel, a "self-propelled semisubmersible" or SPSS, was captured Sept. 6 in Pacific Ocean waters off the coast of Central America by the Coast Guard Cutter Waesche, based out of Alameda, Calif. Five suspects were also apprehended while attempting to scuttle the vessel by sinking it.
USCG boarding parties found a hold 8 feet deep containing cocaine wrapped in plastic bags and on pallets. Before the vessel sank, officials recovered about 2.8 tons of cocaine, about a third of what they believe was in the hold. It was the sixth drug-running sub seized by the Coast Guard during the fiscal year ending Sept. 30.
The Waesche transferred 19.5 tons of cocaine to shore Thursday in an event at which it was announced a record 416,000 pounds of cocaine was recovered in 260 drug interdictions during the year. The estimated value of the cocaine was $5.6 billion.
"With every interdiction, we learn more about transnational organized crime networks that generate profit and proliferate power from a laundry list of illicit activities," said Vice Adm. Fred Midgette, commander, Coast Guard Pacific Area.
Added Capt. James Passarelli, commanding officer of the Waesche, "Our Coast Guardsmen face significant risks posed by dangerous criminal organizations. Our crew preserved valuable evidence and kept millions of dollars of illicit narcotics off America's streets."
The cocaine is typically sent by custom-built submarines from Central America to Mexico, where it is smuggled into the United States overland. The Waesche patrols an area of the Pacific Ocean twice the size of the continental United States and known as the Western Hemisphere Transit Zone, where the Coast Guard seized 69 percent of ocean-delivered narcotics in the past year, it said.