Coast Guard's Increased Authority to Interdict Submarines Smuggling Drugs into the United States Pays Off

October 22, 2009

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Senator John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV, Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, issued the following statement after the U.S. Coast Guard intercepted a self-propelled semi-submersible (SPSS) yesterday southwest of Guatemala in the Eastern Pacific.  The SPSS was initially detected by a Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) and was later boarded by a U.S. Coast Guard Boarding Team.  Four crewmembers were found onboard the vessel in addition to an estimated seven tons of heroin.
“I applaud the Coast Guard’s brave and effective efforts yesterday,” said Chairman Rockefeller.  “They should be proud of their work as it is simply unacceptable to allow drug traffickers to smuggle thousands of pounds of illegal drugs into our country.  This is a good day for America’s fight against illegal drugs.”
The swift action by the U.S. Coast Guard yesterday would not have been possible without passage of the Drug Trafficking Vessel Interdiction Act (S. 3598) that designated the operation of SPSS vessels without nationality as illegal and a threat to “the security of the United States.”  The bill established civil and criminal penalties for violating the law.  U.S. Coast Guard and other federal interdiction authorities are now allowed to stop and arrest persons using, navigating, or operating SPSS vessels without nationality.  
This bill came in response to drug smugglers having developed a new method of trafficking narcotics into the United States with the use of SPSS vessels.  Traffickers began using SPSS vessels in the early 1990s, but at that time the vessels’ travel distance was limited.  With advances in ship building capabilities, traffickers have been able to build vessels that can carry much larger loads and travel greater distances.  Routes used by traffickers operating SPSS vessels allow them to leave from both coasts of South America and travel to the United States.