The semisubmersible filled with thousands of pounds of cocaine tore through deep Pacific waters, ultimately bound for the United States, tracked by a Coast Guard surveillance aircraft.

Infamously elusive boats dubbed narco-submarines – cartel-funded ships built in the jungle to haul massive amounts of drugs – have bedeviled Coast Guardsmen tasked with stemming the flow of contraband. Most are never spotted.

But on June 18, there was a positive hit on a narco-submarine hundreds of miles off the Colombian and Ecuadoran coast in waters patrolled by the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Munro. The ship deployed a boarding team on two small boats with a helicopter watching overhead.

Guardsmen, trained how to board ships, wore helmet camera videos recording the moment they ran down the vessel. “Stop your boat! Now!” one roars in Spanish as waves crash against the hull. “That’s going to be hard to get on,” he says. The boarders wore holstered pistols and night-vision goggles to prepare to peer inside the dark hull.

Crew members of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Munro inspect a self-propelled semisubmersible on June 19. U.S. Coast Guard photo

Three Guardsmen slip off the side of their boat onto the 40-foot narco-sub as one boarder pounds on the hatch with his fist. Then, a suspected trafficker emerges and puts his hands up as the Coast Guardsmen scream commands. Then the video ends.Inside was more than 17,000 pounds of cocaine, estimated to be worth $232 million, said Lt. Commander Stephen Brickey, a spokesman for U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Area.

“They’re like the White Whale,” Brickey told The Washington Post on Thursday, describing narco-subs. “They’re pretty rare. For us to get one, it’s a significant event.” The Pacific region monitored by the Coast Guard is about the size of the continental U.S., Brickey said, likening the mission to a pair of police cars patrolling the country.

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