Footage from the US Defence Department shows Coast Guard crews in a daring chase and boarding of a semi-submersible vessel carrying tonnes of cocaine.
US Coast Guard Cutter Munro crew members can be seen in helmet-cam footage chasing down a “self-propelled semi-submersible” (SPSS) smuggling vessel at high speed in international waters in the Pacific Ocean.
The two boats pursue the narco sub at pace hundreds of kilometres off the Colombian and Ecuadorian coast, with one guardsman yelling “Stop your boat now!” in Spanish.
With waves crashing against the hull, a crew member deftly boards the vessel, managing to hold on before pounding on the hatch.
The hatch opens, with the raised hands of a suspected trafficker emerging from within, before the video ends.
A spokesman for the US Coast Guard Pacific Area told the Washington Post that more than 7.7 tonnes of cocaine was found on board the vessel in the June 18 operation, worth an estimated $US232 million ($332 million).
“They’re pretty rare. For us to get one, it’s a significant event,” Lieutenant Commander Stephen Brickey said.
Lieutenant Commander Brickey said smugglers could sometimes be armed and, if caught, open a valve in the vessel to fill it with water, scuttling all evidence as it sinks to the sea bed.
He said this particular semi-submersible – the vessel cannot fully dive like a submarine – was sunk by the Coast Guard. The alleged smugglers were taken away to be prosecuted.
He added the Pacific region monitored by the Coast Guard is roughly the size of continental US, saying their mission was a lot like two police cars patrolling the entire country. Coast Guard patrols might encounter a narco sub about once a year.
The guardsmen wore night-vision goggles in anticipation of peering inside the dark hull.
The Coast Guard said “purpose-build smuggling vessels like SPSSs are designed to hold large quantities of contraband while evading detection by law enforcement authorities”.
The Cutter Munro’s efforts form part of a US push to combat drug trafficking out of South and Central America.