Image: Semi-submersible vessel
Kent Gilbert  /  AP
U.S. Navy sailors stand Wednesday atop the semi-submersible vessel found with seven tons of cocaine off Costa Rica last Saturday.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 9/19/2008 5:36:08 PM ET 2008-09-19T21:36:08

For the second time in less than a week, the U.S. Coast Guard said Friday that it had fished out of the sea a semi-submersible vessel packed full of cocaine.

Seven tons of cocaine with a street value of $196 million were confiscated when Coast Guard crewmembers boarded the stateless vessel Wednesday about 400 miles south of the Mexico-Guatemala border, the service said in a statement.

A Navy maritime patrol aircraft had alerted the nearby Coast Guard Cutter Midgett to the 60-foot-long vessel.

"The Coast Guard boarding team located 295 bales of cocaine, valued at more than $196 million, in a huge forward compartment," the Coast Guard stated, adding that the vessel then "became unstable and began to sink during the transfer of the bales of cocaine ... The condition of the vessel made it unsafe to tow and Midgett's crew sank the vessel as a hazard to navigation."

Earlier raid off Costa Rica
The bust followed a nighttime boarding and seizure of another semi-submersible by the Coast Guard and U.S. Navy off Costa Rica on Saturday.

Costa Rican Security Minister Janina del Vecchio said in a statement Tuesday that the 70-foot vessel was intercepted by the U.S. Navy in international waters near Costa Rica.

Del Vecchio said the vessel was transporting an estimated 6.6 U.S. tons of cocaine, with an estimated street value of $187 million.

In a dramatic nighttime operation, the U.S. officials arrested four Colombian smugglers in international waters before they could sink the vessel.

"The boat was partially submerged but you can't call it amateurish. The drug traffickers are not amateurs," Jose Pastor, a spokesman for Costa Rica's public security ministry told Reuters.

Submarines used in the past
Several makeshift submarines toting drugs have been captured recently on the high seas. In July, the Mexican special forces captured a similar submarine carrying 200 tightly wrapped packages of cocaine.

According to officials, the U.S. Coast Guard sent a team of special agents on small boats to surprise the smugglers on Saturday after a U.S. Navy airplane spotted the sub. When the traffickers realized the agents were on their deck they shifted the boat violently in an attempt to throw the officers into the sea.

After that failed, they complied with orders not to open hatches designed to sink the craft, said the Coast Guard.

"This was the most dangerous operation of my career," Todd Bagetis, the lieutenant in charge of the Coast Guard team, said in a statement.

Official photos showed the craft packed full of 37 bales of cocaine.

The vessel was likely capable of traveling from South America to the U.S. coast without stopping for fuel or supplies, said the Coast Guard.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Video: Drug sub

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