Just weeks after a record-setting cocaine haul, the Coast Guard intercepted another semisubmersible boat in the eastern Pacific with a similar sized delivery, worth an estimated $227 million had it reached land.
The second seizure Aug. 31 in international waters west of Mexico netted 15,000 pounds of cocaine and a four-man crew, operating a 50’ vessel with blue-green camouflage paint, similar to a craft that was stopped in the region July 19 with 16,000 lbs. of the drug on board.
A U.S. Customs office of Air and Marine P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft detected the boat while on routine patrol, and the crew of the Legend-class 418’x54’x22.5’ Coast Guard cutter Bertholf on patrol in the area was alerted and made toward the scene. Two long-range interceptor boats were launched, and as the crews approached they saw four suspected smugglers emerge from the semisubmersible’s hatch.
The boarding party took those crewmen off the boat and removed the cocaine in bales and loose brick form. The boat was then sunk as a hazard to navigation, according to the Coast Guard.
As with the July 19 incident, news of the seizure was withheld for several weeks. The increasing use of semisubmersibles for smuggling by drug syndicates has intensified the intelligence war between them and U.S. agencies, which are organized through a joint interagency task force headquartered in Key West, Fla.
In Congressional hearings earlier this year, top Coast Guard officers said the maritime capabilities of criminal groups are a real concern for national security, too, with the potential for smuggling weapons.
Built in clandestine boatyards, the semisubmersible boats and crews have long range and heavy cargo capability. One photograph released by the Coast Guard shows the boat stopped Aug. 31 had a helm station that would not look out of place on a center-console sport fishing boat, with a stainless steel wheel, compass binnacle and engine controls.