Senate Approves Bipartisan Bill Combating Drug Trafficking Championed by Senator Stevens
The United States Senate last night approved legislation sponsored by Senators Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and Dan Inouye (D-Hawaii) that would make it illegal to operate unflagged self-propelled semi-submersible (SPSS) vessels on international voyages. SPSS vessels are used to smuggle drugs worldwide.
"The influx of illegal drugs into America threatens both the well-being of our families and our maritime security," said Senator Stevens. "These vessels represent a new danger to the security of our nation. Smuggling drugs and weapons through our waters helps breed transnational crime and terrorism, and it must be stopped. The bill will give our Coast Guard, the defenders of our nation's maritime borders, more tools to fight drugs and keep our waters safe."
SPSS vessels, which are generally made of fiberglass and converted by the smugglers who use them, glide under the water with only their cockpits and exhaust tubes visible, creating a low profile that is difficult to detect with radar, sonar or infrared systems. Smugglers will often scuttle their vessels when in danger of being caught, forcing the U.S. Coast Guard to finance their rescue without being able to bring any criminal charges against them. This bill attempts to fix that loophole by making it illegal to operate or embark on an SPSS vessel that is unflagged and that is or has been navigated in international waters with the intent to evade detection.
The proliferation of manned and unmanned SPSS vessels used to transport illegal drugs is an emerging and significant threat facing the nation today. These vessels transport multi-ton loads of cocaine and other illicit cargo bound for the United States. Semi-submersible vessels are responsible for the movement of nearly 32% of the cocaine flow into the United States. After just 23 total SPSS interdictions in the last six years leading up to September 2007, the Coast Guard has encountered 45 of these vessels in the first 6 months of 2008.