MIAMI (CBS4) – Fifteen thousand pounds of cocaine, worth more than $180 million, seized from a drug sub in the Caribbean, was offloaded in Miami Tuesday morning.
Crew members from the Coast Guard Cutter Oak offloaded the drugs at the Miami Beach Coast Guard Station on the MacArthur Causeway.
U.S. authorities intercepted the so-called "narco sub," a submarine-like craft, off the Caribbean coast of Honduras on July 13th, the Coast Guard said Monday.
Lieutenant commander Pete Niles said he's proud of the catch him and his team, along with FBI divers, pulled off the ocean floor.
"In 27 years this is a first," Niles said. "It's probably the most gratifying thing I've done."
It all started two weeks ago when a C-130 plane noticed what appeared to be a submarine in the western Caribbean.
The Coast Guard checked it out and sure enough the semi-submersible boat was loaded down with drugs.
"All the sudden we are off the coast of Honduras with an FBI team on board and it was crazy." Jennifer Brockway, a Coast Guard rookie said.
Brockway was part of a third of the crew on their first deployment and had an amazing experience.
They arrested the traffickers, but before they could get to the drugs the sub sank. Traffickers do that intentionally to protect their cargo, CBS4's David Sutta reported.
Using sonar the Coast Guard found the sub in 65 feet of water. The fiberglass craft, known as a self-propelled semi-submersible (SPSS) sank during the interdiction but an FBI dive team recovered the drugs on board after the Coast Guard found the sunken vessel last week.
"We would hear, 'Yeah there is five more coming up and then 25 more coming up,'" Niles said.
It took the divers three days to drag up 232 bales, Sutta reported.
"We just kept saying wow," Niles said. "There's more. There's more."
U.S. and Honduran authorities said last week's seizure was the first time they had intercepted one of the vessels in Caribbean waters. Typically drug subs are used on the West Coast. Semi-submersible vessels are regularly used to smuggle drugs along Central America's Pacific Coast.
It is estimate nearly a third of drug shipments into America are coming this way because of their stealthiness, Sutta reported.
"They blend in very good with the water," Niles said. "Even this one underwater. It blended in very well."
Niles interpreted it as, "It shows that the drug traffickers are having to take new routes and having to use new tactics."
And they're new tactics the Coast Guard is catching on to.
Looking at the drugs being unloaded off the ship Brockway said is quiet the experience.
"It boggles my mind how much money all this is worth," Brockway said. "How many people are going to be without their fix. It's just crazy."
The DEA took the drugs from the Coast Guard station on Miami Beach to be destroyed. The case remains under investigation.
Five crew members aboard the sub were taken into custody before it sank.
Semi-submersible crafts, which partly remain above the surface of the water, are typically built in Colombia and are less than 100 feet in length, U.S. officials said. The vessels can carry four or five crew members and up to 10 metric tons of illegal drugs over distances up to 5,000 miles.
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