A US anti-drug operation intercepted a semi-submersible watercraft hundreds of miles off the coast of El Salvador, seizing 8 tons of cocaine with a street value in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The seizure is a notable success for US-led efforts to curb drug trafficking along the Central American isthmus.
The US Navy, Coast Guard, and Customs and Border Protection were all involved in the operation that took place on July 18, according to an official statement. The interdiction occurred in international waters hundreds of miles off of El Slavador's Pacific coast, after a US air patrol identified the semi-submersible vessel.
The vessel's exact point of origin and destination are not known at this point. However, it is suspected that the boat was ultimately bound for the US. Four men were captured on board, but authorities have not released their nationalities.
The patrol was being conducted as part of the US-led Operation Martillo, an international effort launched in 2012 to interrupt drug trafficking routes along the Central American isthmus. The ongoing operation has been successful in its work to intercept maritime drug shipments before they land directly on US soil or before they land in Central America, where the shipments are often divided up and trafficked northwards.
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This latest seizure highlights the importance of ongoing technical and operational support from the US to disrupt drug trafficking in Central America. While authorities in El Salvador have attempted to respond to an uptick in the use of maritime trafficking routes, technical and operational limitations make it difficult for them to intercept shipments any further than 20 miles off shore. Most maritime drug trafficking routes in the Eastern Pacific chart a course 200 to 400 miles off shore.
While the point of origin for the captured vessel is not yet clear, much of the drug traffic that Operation Martillo was designed to interrupt originates from Colombia's Pacific coast. Colombia's Navy has been facing an uphill battle in combatting the use of sophisticated submersible vessels by drug traffickers trying to evade detection. The US has been tracking and intercepting 'narco-subs' in both the Caribbean and Pacific since the mid 2000s.