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Over $239M worth of cocaine, including from narco-submarine, seized in November, Coast Guard says

Authorities seized thousands of pounds of cocaine last month and offloaded in Southern California Wednesday after intercepting several suspected drug smuggling vessels.

Crews seized about 18,219 pounds of cocaine during six separate incidents in November, the U.S. Coast Guard said District said in a news release Wednesday. The cocaine, which has an estimated street value of more than $239 million, was offloaded in San Diego.

The drugs were recovered off the coasts of Mexico, Central America, and South America, according to the USCG. The seizures ranged from 44 pounds to more than 5,500 pounds.

The largest of the six seizures was recovered by the Coast Guard Cutter Waesche on Nov. 20, the USCG said. It was found on a self-propelled semi-submersible, also known as a narco-submarine.

"Our last interdiction of a semi-submersible vessel was noteworthy since it was the first semi-submersible interdicted in the Eastern Pacific in over three years,” Capt. Robert Mohr, commanding officer of the Waesche, said in the release.

Cocaine is the third most seized drug in 2023, according to drug seizure data from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. So far this year, more than 81,000 pounds of cocaine has been seized — followed by over 140,400 pounds of methamphetamine and nearly 150,000 pounds of marijuana.

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Interceptions occurred over a monthlong period

Crews on the Coast Guard Cutter Waesche seized approximately 14,350 pounds of cocaine in four separate incidents between Nov. 7 and Nov. 20, according to the USCG. Crews on the Coast Guard Cutter Active found about 3,869 pounds of cocaine between Nov. 23 and Nov. 24.

"The significance of keeping this much cocaine from reaching our shores and streets is, no doubt, life-changing. Without these 9 tons of cocaine on American streets, fewer people will have access to this toxic poison, and hundreds of millions of dollars will not make it into cartel coffers," U.S. Attorney Tara McGrath said in the release.

Coast Guard Cutter Waesche is one of eight National Security Cutters operated by the Coast Guard. The 418-foot-long ship is used for Coast Guard operations, such as supporting maritime homeland security and defense missions.

Coast Guard Cutter Active is a medium endurance cutter about 210 feet long and is used for law enforcement and search-and-rescue missions.

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What are 'narco-submarines'?

"Narco-submarines" are semi-submersible vessels that are used to ferry narcotics across ocean waters.

The handcrafted vessels are painted in ocean colors to avoid detection. They are hermetically sealed, contain diesel or electric engines, and are either self-propelled or carry drug smugglers.

For years, narco-submarines have played a leading role in drug trafficking and have been essential tools for Colombian criminal groups. These criminal groups use the vessels to send cocaine to Mexican drug organizations, such as the Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel.

There have been several narco-submarines intercepted by authorities over the years, carrying millions of dollars worth of cocaine. In May, the Colombian Navy announced that it intercepted the largest narco-submarine ever recorded in the country — about 100 feet long and 10 feet wide.

Contributing: Karol Suárez, Louisville Courier Journal

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Coast Guard seized over 9 tons of cocaine in the eastern Pacific Ocean