Second Caribbean drug sub bust

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A Coast Guard Cutter Mohawk boarding team member carries a bale of cocaine interdicted from a self-propelled semi-submersible vessel in the Caribbean Sea. U.S. Coast Guard photo.
A Coast Guard Cutter Mohawk boarding team member carries a bale of cocaine interdicted from a self-propelled semi-submersible vessel in the Caribbean Sea. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Earlier this summer, Compass featured a story on Coast Guard Cutter Seneca seizing close to $180 million dollars worth of cocaine in the first Coast Guard self-propelled semi-submersible vessel seizure in the Caribbean. Well, it wasn’t long before drug sub bust number two would come along thanks to the men and women aboard Coast Guard Cutter Mohawk.

While on a routine counternarcotics patrol in the western Caribbean Sea last month, the Mohawk crew interdicted a suspect drug smuggling, self-propelled semi-submersible vessel – or drug sub – used regularly to transport illegal narcotics in the Eastern Pacific. This interdiction is only the second Coast Guard interdiction of an SPSS in the Caribbean.

The pursuit commenced when the crew of a Coast Guard HC-130 Hercules airplane spotted a suspicious vessel. The Hercules crew passed on the vessel’s location to Mohawk who then kicked it into high gear.

Click the above image to see video footage of a self-propelled semi-submersible vessel interdiction and hear an interview with Coast Guard Cutter Mohawk's commanding officer, Cmdr. Mark Fedor.
Click the above image to see video footage of a self-propelled semi-submersible vessel interdiction and hear an interview with Coast Guard Cutter Mohawk’s commanding officer, Cmdr. Mark Fedor.

“We had to sprint about 200 miles from our location to where they saw it to make the interdiction,” said Mohawk’s commanding officer, Cmdr. Mark Fedor. “My engineers did an outstanding job; we were able to go about full speed for a 24-hour period.”

As the Mohawk steamed forward, they launched their helicopter crew and pursuit boatcrew to interdict the SPSS.

The Mohawk focused on getting their boatcrew as close as possible to the SPSS, “Which is a dangerous evolution in the middle of the ocean because this thing is right at the surface and we are bringing our small boat alongside of it,” said Fedor.

When Mohawk’s boatcrew came within 20 yards of the drug sub, the suspect smugglers came out of the sub’s hatch and scuttled the vessel in an attempt to hide any evidence – an act typical in previous SPSS interdictions. Though the SPSS sank during the interdiction, Mohawk’s crew was able to recover a quantity of cocaine before it sank.

“The use of self propelled semi-submersibles is relatively new in the Caribbean, so it’s a serious operational challenge for the cutter fleet,” said Fedor. “They are a significant threat to our nation and our friends throughout Central and South America because they can smuggle massive amounts of narcotics as well as other illicit goods or people. I am proud of my crew for stepping up to this challenge. Through their professionalism and courage, we were able to stop millions of dollars of cocaine from reaching the streets of America. That’s why we’re out here.”

A self-propelled semi-submersible vessel underway in the Caribbean Sea. The SPSS was interdicted by the crew of Coast Guard Cutter Mohawk. U.S. Coast Guard photo.
A self-propelled semi-submersible vessel underway in the Caribbean Sea. The SPSS was interdicted by the crew of Coast Guard Cutter Mohawk. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Built in the jungles and remote areas of South America, the typical SPSS is less than 100 feet in length, with four to five crewmembers, and carries up to 10 metric tons of illicit cargo. Drug traffickers design SPSS vessels to be difficult to spot and to rapidly sink when they detect law enforcement thereby making contraband recovery difficult.

This challenge is met with the cooperation of U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Navy, Customs and Border Protection and partner nation aircraft and vessel crews who work together to conduct counter-drug patrols in the Caribbean.

“While the contraband was lost in this case due to the vessel being scuttled, the suspected drug smugglers can still be prosecuted under the Drug Vessel Trafficking Interdiction Act of 2008, which makes the embarkation in and operation of these stateless vessels illegal,” said Capt. Doug Fears, Chief of Coast Guard’s Office of Law Enforcement. “Drug trafficking organizations continue to use increasingly sophisticated and evolving smuggling methods to evade authorities. In response, we will continually evaluate and adapt our interdiction efforts to optimize our ability to interdict drug traffickers at sea.”

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