Coast Guard Nabs Drug Sub off Honduras

By Jason Gotlieb 08/02/11

Elusive narco-subs often sink—along with their cargo—but Feds hunted this one down.

Coke floats Photo via

A Mexico-bound Colombian "submarine" with five men and 7.5 tons of cocaine on board was seized last week, US coast guards have announced. The crew managed to sink their vessel at the first sign of trouble on July 13, after it was spotted by a US Coast Guard plane off the coast of Honduras. Believing their stash was secure, they attempted to escape on a yellow life raft but were detained. Searching with sonar equipment, FBI, Coast Guard and Honduran Navy divers finally found the submerged storeroom on July 26—salvaging most of its $180 million cargo from 50 feet beneath the waves before the fish could get hooked. The boat is a self-propelled semi-submersible (SPSS). Such vessels are typically built in the jungles of Colombia by paramilitary trafficking groups and are made of fiberglass and wood to evade radar detection. The craft can hold between four and five people and up to 10 tons of cargo. They are usually under 100 feet long and can travel up to 5,000 miles. SSPS vessels have been operating since the mid-90s, authorities say, and transport up to a third of the region's cocaine. The five defendants are being detained in Tampa, Florida, awaiting hearings on charges of possession of cocaine with intention to distribute in the US. This was the first capture of an SPSS in the Caribbean and the first underwater drug removal in US Coast Guard history.

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Jason Gotlieb is a programmer, software developer, and writer living in New York. You can find him on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.