US Navy/AP
A self-propelled semi-submersible vessel off the coast of Central America in the eastern
Pacific, Sunday, Aug 19. 2007. Coast Guard officials intercepted the
vessel and detained
the smugglers, who were transporting approximately 5.5 tons of cocaine worth $352
million. (AP)

Can the US Stop Semi-Submersibles?

August 28, 2008 10:17 AM
by Sarah Amandolare
Drug cartels are using submarine-like, self-propelled semi-submersible vessels that are difficult to detect. Could they eventually be used to transport terrorists?

New Drug Trend Emerging

The Christian Science Monitor reported on a troubling new trend among drug cartels: “small, homemade ‘semi-submersibles’ that are hard to detect,” but capable of transporting millions of dollars worth of drugs to the United States.

The vessels stick up about a foot out of the water, but have been able to sneak past the military. According to The Christian Science Monitor, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, as well as the focus on tightening border security have distracted U.S. officials from the drug cartel.

However, last month, a United States tip led to the seizure of a “drug-laden semi-submersible vessel” off the Pacific Coast of Mexico, reported The Seattle Times. Authorities discovered 5.8 tons of cocaine inside the “cross between a submarine and a cigarette boat,” and were able to gain a better sense of how the ships are designed. According to The Seattle Times, the ships cost around $2 million to build.

An equally if not more disturbing threat posed by the semi-submersibles is the possibility of terrorist smuggling. According to The Boston Globe, Navy Admiral James Stavridis has warned, “If drug cartels can ship up to 10 tons of cocaine in a semi-submersible, they can clearly ship or rent space to a terrorist organization for a weapon of mass destruction or a high-profile terrorist.”

Background: SPSS Legislation

Self-propelled semi submersibles (SPSSs) are hard for coast guard officials to find, and also present difficulties for law enforcement officers. Smugglers “often flood the watercraft, washing all narcotics deep into the ocean, to avoid charges,” and then jump overboard, reports the Navy Times.

Smugglers aboard SPSSs could be up against new legislation soon, however. In July 2008, Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., introduced a bill called the Drug Trafficking Interdiction Act, which would make using an SPSS a felony.

Opinion & Analysis: How to defeat drug traffickers

Reference Material: SPSS Details


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