Poe/Lungren File Legislation to Tighten Border Security At Sea

Bill Outlaws Submarines Operating without Nationality

WASHINGTON, DC Congressman Ted Poe (TX-02) and Congressman Daniel Lungren (CA-03) filed legislation to prohibit the operation of any submersible or semi-submersible (SPSS) vessel navigating in US territorial waters without evidence of the vessels nationality.

The drug cartels in South America, specifically in Colombia, continue to figure out ways to smuggle drugs into our country and now they are doing it by sea, said Poe. The influx of illegal drugs is one of Americas greatest maritime security threats and a battle the brave men and women of the U.S. Coast Guard wage everyday. Congress must deal with this issue by making it a federal offense to use a submarine within international waters that carries no flag or registration of another nation.

Under current law, it is only illegal to operate a SPSS vessel if they are in possession of illicit cargo. The Consolidated Counter Drug Database (CCDB) reported an unprecedented 27 SPSS events that successfully delivered an estimated 122 tons or 244,713 pounds of cocaine with an estimated street value of nearly $2.7 billion over a 4 month span late last year to early this year.

The drug cartels are smart, continued Poe. They know if they can destroy the evidence they can't be prosecuted. We need to make a law that being in possession of this submarine is enough to prosecute them for crimes on the high seas.

Congressman Poe offered an amendment addressing this issue last month to the Coast Guard Authorization Bill, which was passed by Congress and awaiting action in the Senate. However, on June 16, 2008 the US Coast Guard located a partially submerged SPSS operating 90 nautical miles northwest of the Colombia/Ecuador border. Colombian drug traffickers counter-detected the U.S. interdiction forces and quickly flooded and sank their SPSS destroying any evidence of the SPSS and indicating a need for immediate action by Congress.

While we believe these SPSS vessels are currently only carry narcotics, nothing prevents them falling into the hands of terrorists, stated Poe. If these vessels can carry 13 tons of cocaine, they can carry weapons of mass destruction just as easily. The uncontrolled environment in which these vessels operate is prime for an act of terrorism off our coasts. It is imperative for the security of our nation that we act on this legislation independently and immediately.

Self-Propelled Semi-Submersible (SPSS) Vessels:

  • These mini submarines are currently being made in the jungles of Columbia
  • SPSS vessels are made of fiberglass, typically are less than 100 feet in length
  • Carry up to five passengers and over 13 tons
  • Travel at speeds of up to 12 knots (14 miles per hour); they can travel from the north coast of South America to the southeastern U.S. without refueling
  • They are constructed to remain under the surface of the water, making them difficult to detect

Congressman Poe serves on the House Transportation Committee, Coast Guard and Maritime Subcommittee and the Congressional Port Security Caucus.