Narco subs may become trend in Caribbean, Coast Guard says
A member of the U.S. Coast Guard carries a bale of cocaine seized from a narco sub in the Caribbean Sea on September 17.
September 28th, 2011
07:29 PM ET

Narco subs may become trend in Caribbean, Coast Guard says

The U.S. Coast Guard says it believes narco subs, semi-submersible vessels used to transport illegal drugs, may become a trend in the Caribbean Sea after it intercepted a second such vessel there.

The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Mohawk stopped a cocaine-smuggling, self-propelled sub and detained the sub's crew in the western Caribbean Sea on September 17, the service said.

The other instance of the Coast Guard stopping a drug-smuggling sub in the Caribbean happened July 13. Until this summer, all the semi-submersibles that had been seized recently were stopped off Central America's Pacific coast.

"It seems maybe the drug trafficking organizations are changing their tactics a little bit and trying to move massive amounts of narcotics not just through the eastern Pacific, but also through the Caribbean using these (self-propelled semi-submersibles),” said the Mohawk's commanding officer, Coast Guard Cmdr. Mark J. Fedor.

The Mohawk was patrolling the Caribbean on September 17 when a Coast Guard airplane spotted a suspicious vessel in the water. After the Mohawk intercepted the vessel, its crew detained the sub's crew.

Before they were detained, the sub's crew members scuttled their vessel, sinking it in deep water. The Mohawk's crew was unable to recover the cargo except for two bales of cocaine that floated, the Coast Guard said.

A typical narco sub is built in a jungle or other remote area of South America, is less than 100 feet in length, has up to five crew members and carries illicit cargo for up to 5,000 miles, according to the Coast Guard.

Two new narco subs found in Colombia

It is believed that smugglers use the subs to deliver illegal drugs to Mexico, and that the drugs are then transported by land to the United States, Fedor said.

Narco-sub smugglers may be increasingly tempted to use the Caribbean as a shortcut to Mexico.

"In (the) eastern Pacific, those vessels have to travel a long, long way to get up to Mexico or anywhere close to Mexico,” Fedor said.

The main targets of counternarcotics patrols in the western Caribbean Sea - conducted by aircraft and vessels from the Coast Guard, U.S. Navy, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and partner nations - have been "go-fast boats," which are nondescript vessels with unusually powerful engines. With September's interception of a narco sub, that focus will change.

“Not only are (narco subs) more stealthy and harder to detect, but they can carry up to 6 tons of cocaine, so you’re talking a significant amount more of drugs on these than you will get on a traditional go-fast vessel,” Fedor said.

The sub that was intercepted in July also was scuttled by its crew, but the vessel was in shallow water, so FBI divers were able to access the cargo. About 15,000 pounds of cocaine, worth about $180 million, were found in the cargo hold, the Coast Guard said.

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Filed under: Crime • Drugs • Military • U.S. Coast Guard
soundoff (81 Responses)
  1. juan rodriguez

    Semper Paratus...

    September 29, 2011 at 7:39 am | Report abuse |
    • Michael

      This report is in error. When I visiited Cartagena, Columbia at the end of 2009 the Coast Guard base there already had 3 semi-submergible subs that they had seized displayed at their docks. Two were made of ferrocement and one of fiber glass. Very hard to setect as they ride so low in the water they have little profile and a very poor radar signature.

      September 29, 2011 at 8:13 am | Report abuse |
    • Michael

      This report is in error. When I visiited Cartagena, Columbia at the end of 2009 the Coast Guard base there already had 3 semi-submergible subs that they had seized displayed at their docks. Two were made of ferrocement and one of fiber glass. Very hard to setect as they ride so low in the water they have little profile and a very poor radar signature. They work along with the USCG.

      September 29, 2011 at 8:14 am | Report abuse |
    • Patrick

      Juan, were you ever in the Coast Guard??

      September 29, 2011 at 9:05 am | Report abuse |
  2. bob801

    Could be some practice for Navy P-3C Orion crews to hunt them down. Drop a Mk48 torpedo on them and they will be gone, baby, gone.

    September 29, 2011 at 7:40 am | Report abuse |
  3. mico

    It is easy. Stop the craving for drugs and the flow will stop. Demand encourages supply. Let's focus on rasing our kids well. This is the product of kids that get raised on their own by a daycare provider and by parents that only care by providing them with every material stuff they desire. Bring back family dinner time and you'll see the change. It is a cultural change that needs to occur. We are simply too selfish, to the point we do not care about our kids and country. Waiving the flags on the 4th of July parade is not enough. Let's go back to the principles in which this country was founded.

    September 29, 2011 at 7:48 am | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      That is very easy to say vs. very easy to do. It's like the old "Just say No" campaign. Oh yeah we can say "No" all we want, but really how effective is it?

      September 29, 2011 at 8:13 am | Report abuse |
    • C

      Why not just send all the drug addict's to Columbia. DUH

      September 29, 2011 at 9:32 am | Report abuse |
  4. Peter

    Just think what else can be smuggles besides drugs in one of them submersables launched from a cargo ship under the cover of night...

    September 29, 2011 at 7:50 am | Report abuse |
  5. db

    Take all the illegal cocane and grind it up, then disperse it over a combat area where the enemy is and make them all to happy to fight. Simply walk in and take their guns away while they are all "happy!"

    September 29, 2011 at 7:53 am | Report abuse |
    • Chris R

      Not really how coke works.

      September 29, 2011 at 8:39 am | Report abuse |
  6. @mico

    That would mean going back to our old laws. I don't see that happening with the way people enjoy beaking those old laws. Let's just hope that the White house doesn't report that the FBI reports that Al-Jazeera reports that al-quida reports taking credit for these reports of narco subs. Let's go break some more old laws today, shall we?

    September 29, 2011 at 7:57 am | Report abuse |
  7. J_Koz

    Whatever happened to good old Navy intercepts with frigates and rammings and ASW activities – why let the Coastie's have all the fun – sounds like the Squids are missing a bunch of training opportunities.

    September 29, 2011 at 8:00 am | Report abuse |
    • Jessica

      There's enough work for everyone to go around.

      September 29, 2011 at 9:52 am | Report abuse |
  8. Francis

    It is easy. Stop the craving for drugs and the flow will stop. Demand encourages supply. Well, sure if we could just get EVERYONE to agree not to buy illicit drugs, the violence surrounding the illicit drug trade would end. (No demand, no black market violence.) Of course, the other required ingredient for violence is criminal prohibition, the policy that got men with guns involved in the drug trade to begin with. So another (and infinitely more achievable) route to stopping the violence would be to get 51% of Americans to recognize that the war on drugs has been a colossal and destructive failure.

    September 29, 2011 at 8:09 am | Report abuse |
    • war on drugs

      How much longer will it take for someone to realize this? I am in disbeliefe when I see this lost and so useless war being waged, so many lifes damaged and lost. All because of laws that are not enforcable and that are proving impossible to implement. If it is not working, we have to change something. Folow portugal,czech republic do not folow Sweeden please! USA is never going to work like Sweeden. Harm reduction and taxation of this trade is the only way out of this mess.

      September 29, 2011 at 9:47 am | Report abuse |
  9. Ethernet

    DIVE! DIVE! aoooga aoooga Oh, we are all ready at our max depth of 30ft. Never mind.....

    September 29, 2011 at 8:25 am | Report abuse |
    • What? The diving planes are stuck in the mud?

      I like it :-)))

      September 29, 2011 at 10:00 am | Report abuse |
  10. Willie12345

    While hard working and reliable, the Coast Guard does not have all of the assets needed to effectively stop this type of vessel. What is Obama going to do to fix this situation?

    September 29, 2011 at 8:59 am | Report abuse |
    • agonyflips

      He's working hard on the problem. He just needs a little 'pick me up' to get it it done.

      September 29, 2011 at 11:09 am | Report abuse |
  11. Larry

    How much does one of those vessels cost a drug smuggler?

    September 29, 2011 at 9:16 am | Report abuse |
    • M.kuck

      I think I read somewhere the ones they have intercepted cost anywhere from 7 to 21 million, depending on how sophisticated they are.

      September 29, 2011 at 9:26 am | Report abuse |
  12. M.kuck

    Can anyeone with Coast Guard exeprience answer this for me:

    I know in time of war, the Coast Guard can be attached to the Navy for combat duties. Do Coast Guard ships actually have anti-submarine capabilites?

    Also, would it be realisticly feasable to bring the weapons, training, and sensors onboard Coast Guard vessels up to the levels found on Navy combatants, with missiles, air defense systems,and such?

    September 29, 2011 at 9:32 am | Report abuse |
    • Coastie4Life

      The Coast Guard is about 10 years through a 25-year 24+ billion dollar upgrade fleet wide. I have only been off active duty a few years and we had boats and ships in service that were built as far back as the late 50s/early 60s. That being said, we do have quite a few vessels and aircraft that have entered service in the last 10 years that are upgraded regularly. I don't know if you have ever flown in an aircraft over the Gulf, but it is pretty easy to spot anything of that size on the surface of the water or within 15-20 feet of the surface. Our aircraft definitely have the capabilities to spot those vessels and direct Coast Guard units towards them. We also have quite a few newer boats that are exceptionally fast and confront these types. Some of our newer Coast Guard Cutters, such as the National Security Cutters definitely have the technology to track down and stop these vessels. The biggest problem is, is that once they are spotted, they always scuttle the vessel to "destroy the evidence." Which can make it hard to try and convict them in court. The Coast Guard is growing increasingly important in homeland security. And yes, you are right, during times of war, the Coast Guard switches to DoD and operates under the Navy. But typically it falls under the Department of Homeland Security. Funding is much better now than it was pre-9/11 when the funding was so bad that they Coast Guard couldn't afford the fuel to respond to Search and Rescue and other calls for half of each month. It is better, but still has a long way to go. Even funding for staffing, considering that NYPD has more police officers than the Coast Guard has Coasties. We do work hard and do much more than the everyday citizen realizes. It isn't all just dropping out of helicopters to rescue people or stopping illegal drugs. They are an integral part of our economy as they keep all navigable waterways open and running correctly. And so much more. Anyways, I hope I answered your question. SP!

      September 29, 2011 at 9:56 am | Report abuse |
    • JIm

      As NAVY active duty, I say it is impossible to outfit CG cutters with NAVY-fitting weapons systems, missiles and ASW gear. Only remodelling and upgrading a cutter will cost more than initial price of it, all re-routing cables, cooling systems, sonars, control stations and power generators, all this needs more space, and CG cutters just dont have it. If you bring in FFG class into theater, you will lose speed, new type of shallow-water craft needs to be designed. Littorial combat ships dont count for that type of mission.

      September 29, 2011 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse |
  13. war on drugs

    Stop the futile and long lost war on drugs. By making drugs heavily illegal our goverment is increasing the profits for the narcos to the point where thir budgets will soon exceed our military budget. If we continue pressing on, soon the profits from narco trades will allow for using unmanned subs,spaceshuttles, airplanes,vehicles so frequently that we will have no chance of stoping it. We have to take the profits out of this trade by legaly taxing it and controling the usage. We already lost the battle of preventing drug use. Lets focus on harm reduction and treatment.

    September 29, 2011 at 9:38 am | Report abuse |
  14. Jessica

    This is my husband in the above picture. We're very proud of the USCG and the USCGC Mohawk's diligence and hard work on this case.

    September 29, 2011 at 9:53 am | Report abuse |
    • agonyflips

      Does your hubby ever bring home things he finds while working?
      If so, I bet you have some Crazy parties 🙂

      September 29, 2011 at 11:16 am | Report abuse |
    • Jessica


      September 29, 2011 at 12:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scoop

      Nice mustache dude!

      September 29, 2011 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Carl Bennett

    I personally know that there have been operational narco subs for some two decades. I was with Joint Task Force Four in the "Drug War" from 1992-1994. A narco sub was captured c1993 in the Western Caribbean. The details may still be classified.

    September 29, 2011 at 10:03 am | Report abuse |
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