Multinational Effort Nabs Another Semisubmersible in Caribbean Waters

By Dialogo
November 11, 2011

Multinational efforts have resulted in the successful interception of another drug-smuggling, self-propelled semisubmersible (SPSS) vessel in the western Caribbean Sea on September 30.

This marks the third interception of such vessels in only three months, and another important blow to narco-traffickers by a multinational force that works against this shared threat by conducting counter drug patrols in the Caribbean.

“This is the second self-propelled semisubmersible case for this crew, and I am extremely proud we were able to stop millions of dollars of cocaine from reaching the streets of America,” said the commanding officer of the vessel that interdicted the SPSS.

The suspicious vessel, commonly referred to as a drug sub, was spotted in the waters of the Caribbean before being intercepted by a helicopter and pursuit boat crew some 200 miles off the coast of Honduras.

It is estimated that the drugs recovered from the semisub have a street value of more than $200 million, and were destined for the United States through Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico.

The increased ability to interdict illicit trafficking is the result of a multinational effort which includes law enforcement and partner nations.

“We will continue to be out here and stand a vigilant watch,” added the vessel commander.

Once discovered, the crew of the SPSS scuttled the vessel in the mistaken belief that it would avoid prosecution, but the crew was detained in accordance with the Drug Trafficking Vessel Interdiction Act, under which the sentence offense level is set, depending on if the vessel fails to heave to, attempts to scuttle or successfully scuttles.

A scuttled vessel, therefore, justifies the maximum offense level and the crew is facing a possible sentence of up to 15 years in prison. With the recovery of drugs from the vessel, the defendants are facing a minimum sentence of 10 years and a maximum sentence of Life.

It took the crewmembers of a recovery ship two days to locate the sunken SPSS,
but the international and interagency effort was successful in recovering the almost seven tons of cocaine from the SPSS, the biggest seizure of cocaine so far in 2011.

The typical SPSS is built in the jungles and remote areas of South America and can measure up to 30 meters in length, carry four to five crewmembers and upwards of 10 tons of illicit cargo for up to 5,000 miles.

Drug traffickers design SPSS vessels to be difficult to spot and rapidly sink when law enforcement is detected, thereby making contraband recovery difficult, but not impossible, as the recent successes have proved. Still, it is unknown how many vessels have floundered at sea, and how many lives have been lost in the process thus far.