Navy Makes Important Narco Submarine Capture
By: H I Sutton, Contributor Aerospace & Defense, covers the changing world of underwater warfare.
The narco-submarine may not have been expecting a guided missile destroyer to be bearing down on it. Until April this year, U.S. Navy warships were less often involved in drug submarine busts on the high seas. But the Trump administration’s new enhanced counter-narcotics operations has changed that, as a narco-sub found out on May 14. This may mark the start of a new age in narco-submarine interdiction.
Despite its inherent stealthiness the vessel was detected by a P-8 Poseidon from the VP-26 ‘Tridents’ squadron of the U.S. Navy. A destroyer, USS Pinckney, with a U.S. Coast Guard team aboard, then moved into position to intercept it. The destroyer’s SH-60 Sea Hawk helicopters and fast boats made the interdiction. This was the first reported narco-sub seizure since President Trump announced ‘enhanced counter-narcotics operations’ on April 1.
Aboard the narco sub were 1.5 tons of cocaine. This would be 1,400 individual bricks, each weighing 1 kilogram (2.2 lb), and bundled together in batches of 20 as bales. The load had an estimated wholesale value in excess of $23 million. This size of cargo is typical although much larger have been known.
Like most so-called narco submarines the craft could not actually submerge. It was a low-profile vessel, meaning that it is barely visible above the surface. This makes it very hard to detect, especially by eye. The exact type is a Very Slender Vessel (VSV), which is one of four main categories of narco-sub. The full taxonomy is LPV-OM-VSV meaning Low Profile Vessel, Outboard Motors, Very Slender Vessel. By my count this is the 40th narco-VSV to have been reported since they first emerged in 2017.
The USS Pinckney (DDG 91) is one of several warships now operating as part of U.S. Southern Command’s efforts to stem the flow of drugs from South America. A significant portion of it gets loaded aboard narco-submarines in the jungle estuaries of Colombia’s western coast. They sail up to Mexico and from there it flows overland into the United States. The Coast Guard and partner nations have made many seizures up to this point, but it is many years since the the Navy was deployed in this way.
This may be the first narco-submarine reported since the beginning of the enhanced operations, but there have been other drug seizures. On April 26 a joint effort by U.S. Coast Guard and Panamanian forces seized 83 bales of cocaine from a go-fast boat in the Caribbean. And on May 20 the Coast Guard cutter Active (WMEC-618) seized 2,000lb of cocaine aboard a ‘go-slow’ Panga-type fishing boat in the Pacific.
Also: Coast Guard offloads $37 million of cocaine in San Diego
SAN DIEGO, CA, UNITED STATES
Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Alexander Gray
U.S. Coast Guard District 11 PADET San Diego
The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Active (WMEC-618) offloaded more than 2,000 pounds of cocaine Wednesday seized in early May from known drug-transit zones of the Eastern Pacific Ocean worth approximately $37 million.
On April 1, U.S. Southern Command began enhanced counter-narcotics operations in the Western Hemisphere to disrupt the flow of drugs in support of Presidential National Security Objectives. Numerous U.S. agencies from the Departments of Defense, Justice and Homeland Security cooperated in the effort to combat transnational organized crime. The Coast Guard, Navy, Customs and Border Protection, FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, along with allied and international partner agencies, play a role in counter-drug operations.
The fight against drug cartels in the Eastern Pacific Ocean requires unity of effort in all phases from detection, monitoring and interdictions, to criminal prosecutions by international partners and U.S. Attorneys in districts across the nation. The law enforcement phase of counter-smuggling operations in the Eastern Pacific Ocean is conducted under the authority of the 11th Coast Guard District, headquartered in Alameda. The interdictions, including the actual boardings, are led and conducted by members of the U.S. Coast Guard.
“This patrol, and this interdiction in particular, highlights the resilience and professionalism of Active’s crew,” said Cmdr. James O’Mara, commanding officer of Active. “We cancelled a port visit, stretched logistics and diverted 500 miles to get on target and do our job. No captain could ask or expect more from a crew, especially given all the adversity overcome during this patrol. Though I know if more were required, this crew would rally and answer the call, the way they always do.”
Active is a 210-foot medium-endurance cutter commissioned in 1966 and homeported in Port Angeles, Washington. Active’s crew routinely operate from the Straits of Juan de Fuca down to the waters off Central America. Active conducts nine of the Coast Guard’s 11 statutory missions, including search and rescue, drug interdiction, fisheries enforcement and homeland security.
of the Coast Guard Cutter Active (WMEC-618) boarding team inspect a suspected smuggling vessel containing more than 2,000 pounds of cocaine in international waters of the Eastern Pacific Ocean in May, 2020. The cocaine was seized and the suspected smugglers were detained.