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Suspected Cocaine Smugglers Rescued After Semi-Submersible Craft Sinks

Navy NewsStand

Story Number: NNS070823-14
Release Date: 8/23/2007 12:24:00 PM

From U.S. Coast Guard District 11 Public Affairs

SOUTH PACIFIC (NNS) -- Four suspected drug smugglers were rescued and detained approximately 300 miles southwest of the Mexico-Guatemala border Aug. 20 by a combined U.S. Coast Guard and Navy crew. During the rescue several bales of cocaine were seized following the sinking of a semi-submersible craft.

A U.S. Customs and Border Protection surveillance aircraft spotted the low-profile vessel, similar to others that have been seized carrying multi-ton loads of cocaine, while on routine patrol in the area. The craft, estimated to be about 50 feet in length, was quickly abandoned by its crew and sank a short time later.

As the Coast Guard and Navy boarding team from the USS DeWert (FFG 45) approached the area to rescue the semi-submersible's crew 11 bales of cocaine floated to the surface.

"This case shows the challenges our counter-drug patrol forces face, and the lengths to which the drug smuggling organization will go to get their deadly product to the U.S.," said Rear Adm. Craig E. Bone, Commander of the 11th Coast Guard District and tactical commander of U.S. counter drug operations in the Eastern Pacific. "This low-profile, semi-submersible craft was very difficult to detect. I commend the work of the surveillance aircraft crew and the quick actions of the rescue and boarding team for saving the suspects and collecting evidence."

The exact amount of cocaine seized has not been determined.

Bone noted that a new generation of sensors and radars being installed on current and future Coast Guard aircraft and cutters is expected to help improve the agency's surveillance and detection capability.

"As an operational commander I want to give our field personnel the best possible tools. The upgrades to our existing fleet and new equipment couldn't come at a better time," Bone said. "They will improve our ability to do all our missions, from drug interdiction and homeland security to search and rescue and environmental protection."

Over 90 tons of cocaine has been seized in the Eastern Pacific off of Central and South America this fiscal year, which began on Oct. 1, according to Coast Guard statistics.

Seizures in the area have accounted for 88 percent of all U.S. maritime seizures this year. The Eastern Pacific is patrolled by a number of U.S., Central American and South American agencies who c

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