Cutter Steadfast catches cocaine-filled submarine
By Patricia Kime
The crew of the Coast Guard medium-endurance cutter Steadfast caught a whopper while fishing for drug smugglers off the Costa Rican coast Nov. 16 — a self-propelled submersible carrying 3.5 tons of cocaine.
The seizure marks the second time in 15 months that U.S. military personnel and law enforcement agencies have seized a submarine-like vessel packed with illegal drugs.
The Steadfast, a 210-foot cutter based in Warrenton, Ore., was conducting a law enforcement mission in the region when it was alerted to the existence of a low-slung craft moving slowly through the water, Coast Guard 11th District chief of public affairs Dan Dewell said Nov. 20.
After intercepting the 50-foot fiberglass and wooden vessel, a Steadfast crew boarded it, finding four men and the cocaine on board. The crew arrested the men — two Colombians, one Guatemalan and one Sri Lankan — and seized the vessel, Coast Guard officials said.
The vessel was towed to a Costa Rican port and will be brought to the United States as evidence.
According to an Associated Press report, law enforcement officials were tipped to the craft’s presence by three snorkels moving at the same speed — 7 knots — through the water.
“This is the first time in [Costa Rica’s] history that a craft with these characteristics has been caught near the national coasts,” Costa Rica Security Minister Fernando Berrocal told the AP Nov. 19.
The seizure marks the first time the U.S. Coast Guard has seized a self-propelled submersible. It is not, however, the U.S. military’s first encounter with a drug-carrying submarine.
In August 2005, Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment 104, working on the Navy frigate Jarrett 90 miles southwest of the Galapagos Islands, boarded and seized a towed submarine containing 2.5 tons of cocaine.
That craft was fairly sophisticated, even though it had to be towed behind a fishing vessel, said Coast Guard Cmdr. Mark Ogle, commanding officer of LEDet 104’s parent command, the Pacific Tactical Law Enforcement Team.
“It had a lot of hydraulics, electronics and a double skin,” Ogle said.
The discoveries of these submersibles, which can sink to a snorkel depth of six feet, illustrate the increased efforts drug lords now take to push cocaine into the United States, Coast Guard officials say.
“The drug trade is a business and they’re exploring innovative ways to move their product,” Capt. Thomas Cullen, 11th District chief of response said Nov. 21.
“Due to the effectiveness of the Coast Guard and our federal and international partners, we are going to see more of these innovations. Likewise, we have to adjust our tactics to counter these new threats,” Cullen said
Photo of drug sub
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