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Chertoff cites U.S. aid in Mexico’s sub seizure

Times Staff Writer

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Friday that U.S. intelligence helped Mexico capture a cocaine-laden smuggling submarine this week.

As the Mexican navy finished hauling the 33-foot vessel to shore, Chertoff disclosed that the U.S. government had shared information with Mexican authorities before Wednesday’s successful operation.

“We shared information with the Mexican navy, but the Mexican navy acted alone in actually executing the seizures: their marines, their helicopters, their naval vessels,” Chertoff told reporters here after meetings with Mexican officials on security issues.

He did not specify what type of information U.S. officials had passed along before Mexican commandos seized the vessel and its four-member Colombian crew.

Though such homemade vessels are being used increasingly by Colombian drug suppliers as a way to evade radar detection, it was the first time one was captured off the coast of Mexico.

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Mexican military officials said after getting the seized vessel to shore Friday that it held about 6 tons of cocaine.

Mexican commandos, lowered by rope from a helicopter, captured the semi-submersible craft and arrested its crew in the Pacific Ocean 125 miles off the southern state of Oaxaca.

The military had said it acted after receiving intelligence from domestic and international agencies, but did not elaborate.

Chertoff’s remarks were the first confirmation of a U.S. role in the operation, which he called an example of cooperation between the two nations in crime fighting. He said the subs represent a growing threat in the effort by drug gangs to smuggle cocaine to the United States.

The four men arrested said they were fishermen and had been forced into making the journey by captors who threatened them and family members with death.

The suspects said they set sail from the Colombian port of Buenaventura a week earlier without knowing what the payload was or where the submarine, which they said was guided by a satellite navigation system, was heading.

U.S. anti-drug officials said about 40 of the homemade vessels had been spotted since 2007, but few had been seized because the crews often sink them to avoid capture.

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ken.ellingwood@latimes.com


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