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U.S. Coast Guard Seizes $181 Million Worth of Cocaine in Waters South of Mexico

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A U.S. Coast Guard crew from Alameda stops a semi-submersible vessle carrying 12,000 pounds of cocaine on July 18. (Credit: Petty Officer 2nd Class LaNola Stone/U.S. Coast Guard)

A U.S. Coast Guard crew seized more than 16,000 pounds of cocaine, with an estimated value of more than $181 million, from a partially submerged vessel in international waters south of Mexico, officials announced Thursday.

Personnel on the Coast Guard Cutter Stratton, based in Alameda, took four suspected smugglers into custody July 18 and recovered 275 bales of cocaine from the self-propelled vessel after a U.S. Navy patrol aircraft detected the watercraft in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Central America, according to a news release.

The Stratton crew removed 12,000 pounds of the narcotics, then attempted to tow the vessel to shore for use as evidence, the Coast Guard statement said.

“We’re trying to hang onto that boat and sustain it and it let it ride better in the water,” Petty Officer Michael Anderson told the Los Angeles Times.

The semi-submersible began taking on water and sank in deep waters, along with the 4,000 pounds of cocaine that had been left onboard to stabilize it.

The drug bust is the Coast Guard’s largest on record for a partially submerged vessel, officials said.

The Cutter Stratton’s personnel have interdicted or disrupted 15 different smuggling attempts since April, including a June 16 operation that resulted in seizure of 5,460 pounds of cocaine from a semi-submersible, according to the news release.

Twenty-five similar vessels have been interdicted in the Eastern Pacific Ocean since November 2006, the Coast Guard said. Semi-submersibles that are built for illegal trafficking have only a cockpit and exhaust pipe visible above water, making them difficult to detect because of their low-profile and ability to scuttle.