U.S. seizes cocaine-laden sub off Costa Rica

/ Source: msnbc.com news services

The U.S. Coast Guard captured a submarine-like vessel equipped with sophisticated navigation equipment and stuffed with seven tonnes of cocaine, according to Costa Rican authorities.

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.