US Coast Guard unloads drug sub cocaine haul in Miami
- 2 August 2011
- From the section US & Canada
Nearly seven tonnes of cocaine seized from a submarine-like vessel off the coast of Honduras have been unloaded in Florida by the US Coast Guard.
Suspected smugglers were intercepted allegedly transporting the drugs, worth an estimated $180m (£110m), in mid-July.
They were arrested after trying to sink their own vessel with most of drugs still on board, said officials.
An FBI dive team recovered the remaining cocaine load last week.
The Coast Guard said in a statement it was the first time the authorities had caught a "drug sub" in western Caribbean waters.
A C-130 fixed-wing aircraft first spotted the self-propelled semi-submersible (SPSS) close to the water's surface on 13 July near the Honduran province of Gracias a Dios.
A Coast Guard cutter was called to intercept the vessel, after US Customs and Border Protection crews also noticed it.
The suspected smugglers jumped into life rafts after pulling a valve inside the SPSS to sink it with the narcotics on board, Coast Guard Lt Patrick Montgomery told the BBC.
"The Coast Guard is always on the lookout for anything that looks suspicious in the water and that definitely includes 15,000lb [6.8 tonnes] of drugs," Lt Montgomery said.
Coast Guard crews took the vessel's five crew members into custody and were able to retrieve a small portion of the cocaine before the vessel sank.
FBI divers retrieved the remainder of the narcotics last week, about 70ft (21m) below the water's surface.
Coast Guard officials said the drugs, which were unloaded in a port in Miami, will now be turned over to the federal government.
Semi-submersible vessels used to transport drugs in the Eastern Pacific are often made in areas of the Colombian jungle controlled by the country's biggest guerrilla group, the Farc, Lt Montgomery said.
SPSS vessels are regularly used to transport drugs along Central America's Pacific Coast.
Earlier reports based on statements made by Honduran government indicated that the SPSS was carrying 2.5 tonnes of cocaine.