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Dramatic video shows Coast Guard nabbing drug smugglers on submarine

CBS News logo CBS News 7/12/2019 Bryce Klehm

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Dramatic video released by the U.S. Coast Guard shows an interdiction team at sea, shouting in Spanish while forcibly boarding a "homemade" submarine alleged to be carrying thousands of pounds of drugs. In the video from June 18, members of the team are seen pounding on the hatch until one of the suspected smugglers emerges with his hands up. According to the Coast Guard, the vessel was seized by members of the Coast Guard Cutter Munro.

The drugs seized during the dramatic boarding are among the estimated $569 million in drugs seized from the Pacific that were offloaded Thursday in San Diego, according to Coast Guard officials. In total, the Coast Guard seized 39 tons of cocaine and nearly 1,000 pounds of marijuana from drug smuggling vessels in the Eastern Pacific between May and July of this year.

Vice President Mike Pence attended the offloading of the drugs Thursday, along with Drug Enforcement Administration Acting Administrator Uttam Dhillon and Coast Guard Pacific Area Commander Vice Admiral Linda Fagan. In a speech aboard the Cutter Munro, Pence praised the Coast Guard's work, saying, "Make no mistake about it, Coasties, your courageous service is saving American lives."

According to the release, "The drugs represent 14 separate suspected drug smuggling vessel interdictions and disruptions off the coasts of Mexico, Central and South America by three Coast Guard cutters between May and July 2019."

In a press briefing Thursday, Special Agent James Spero of U.S. Homeland Security Investigations announced that 55 suspected smugglers had been detained along with the drugs that were seized. He added that the seizures were a part of Operation Panama Express, a multiagency effort to stem the drug flow into the U.S. Most of the cocaine and marijuana offloaded Thursday will be used as evidence for investigations in Tampa.

Although the boats and submarines interdicted were in international waters, Spero noted that law enforcement is able to inspect the vessels because they "are not flying a country's flag."

The drug and vessel seizures are only the beginning of a long investigation, according to Spero. After the suspected smugglers onboard the vessels are detained and interviewed, the multiagency task force starts developing "second-tier targets -- those responsible for the shipment and the building of the boats" with the ultimate goal of "dismantling the organization."

When asked if the seizures were unusual, Spero said that "homemade" submarine seizures are "not all that unusual," and added that the Coast Guard "sees this amount of drugs every couple of months."

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