One person was killed and three arrested when a semi-submersible craft loaded with cocaine sank off the coast of Panama while being chased by the Costa Rican Coast Guard, officials said Wednesday.
Costa Rica anti-drug commissioner Mauricio Boraschi said that 66 packages of cocaine, each weighing about one kilogram, came to the surface after the craft went down in deep water near the Panama-Costa Rica border.
Experts believe that some 4,000 kilos (8,818 pounds) of cocaine went to the bottom of the ocean with the vessel sank, he said.
One suspect – the man believed to have pulled the plug to let the craft sink – was dead when the Coast Guard arrived, Boraschi said.
The Costa Rican Coast Guard was tipped off about the semi-submersible by a U.S. plane on an anti-drug overflight, and chased the craft into Panamanian waters.
“When we arrived at the scene during rescue operations, a U.S. ship arrived and then a Panamanian airplane … to provide help, and the suspects surrendered,” Boraschi said.
Custom-built semi-submersible crafts, often made of fiberglass and equipped with electric-diesel engines, are commonly used by drug cartels to smuggle cocaine from labs in South America to staging points in Central America, and then to be smuggled into the United States via Mexico.
The typical “narco-subs” operate largely underwater, with just the cockpit and exhaust pipes above surface.