Video: USCG Boards Semi-Sub Smuggling Boat at High Speed

Crewmembers from the Munro inspect the seized semi-sub, June 19, 2019 (USCG)

Published Jul 12, 2019 2:07 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Thursday, the U.S. Coast Guard released video footage of a dramatic high-speed boarding of a drug smuggling semi-submersible in the Eastern Pacific. The cutter Munro intercepted the vessel on June 18 and launched a boarding team in two small pursuit boats. The team ordered the vessel to halt, and when it ceased to obey, they boarded it while under way and forced its crew to open the hatch. 

So-called self-propelled semisubmersible (SPSS) boats are a relatively common vessel class in the Eastern Pacific cocaine trade lanes: the design's low profile is designed to resist detection by radar and visual observation, and each boat can carry several tonnes of drugs.

Coca production in Colombia is at record levels, and importing purified cocaine into North America offers tremendous margins for smugglers. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, one kilo costs about $2,200 wholesale at production labs in Colombia, $30,000 wholesale delivered to the United States, and about $165,000 or more at retail in American cities - an overall markup of about 7,000 percent. This level is rarely approached in legitimate business, and it offers high potential for profit at each step along the supply chain. 

The U.S. Coast Guard has built a successful interdiction campaign in the Eastern Pacific and the Caribbean to interrupt the flow of drugs northwards, and it has had considerable success. In 2017, it seized about 445,000 pounds of cocaine worth an estimated $6 billion, an amount nearly equal to the agency's annual operating budget. In May and June 2019 alone, Coast Guard crews from three cutters seized 39,000 pounds of cocaine and 1,000 pounds of marijuana in 14 interdictions in the Eastern Pacific. Altogether, the haul is worth a combined $570 million.