Self Propelled Semi Submersible (SPSS): Increasing Threat from Sea

by OldSailor on September 15, 2008



Photograph from U.S.Coast Guard

In a daring operation at sea, in the dark hours on September 13, U.S.Coast Guard (USCG) law enforcement detachment 404 embarked on USS McInerney, boarded a stateless, Self Propelled Semi Submersible (SPSS) vessel carrying seven tons of cocaine. The SPSS was about 350 miles west of Guatemala in theĀ  Pacific Ocean.

On noticing the boarding team of USCG onboard, the four smugglers of SPSS tried to throw the boarding team in to the sea by reversing the engines at high speed. As that was not successful, the smugglers further tried to scuttle the SPSS by opening underwater valves. USCG foiled their attempt successfully, seized the vessel and the vessel is being taken in tow by the USS McInerney. Read more from U.S Coast Guard and CNN.

Here are some interesting facts and photographs on Self Propelled Semi Submersible (SPSS) from Joint Interagency Task Force (JIATF) South:

  • SPSS: a surface vessel of 40 to 80 feet in length with very low freeboard (exposed height above water line) of typically 18 inches. Presently used for drug smuggling.
  • Material: made out of Fiberglass/wood making it difficult to be detected at sea visually due to very low freeboard and also by Radar.
  • Propulsion: self propelled by single or twin diesel engines with fuel storing capacity of not less than 1500 gallons.
  • Speed and Range: around 6 knots and approximately 2000 miles.
  • Capacity: can accommodate up to four persons and can carry cargo (cocaine) of 4 to 12 metric tons depending on the size.
  • Control and Communication: Manual or Remote controlled, uses Global Positioning System (GPS), compact and powerful communication equipment.
  • Construction Site,Time and Cost: they are home made and not constructed at standard shipyards, about one year it takes for construction and costs not less than $ 2 million USD.
  • Future developments: as SPSS has proved to be very reliable for smuggling since 1990s, now steel is also used for construction of SPSS to make it moreĀ  stronger to improve seaworthiness and bigger to increase cargo carrying capacity.

Here are photographs of SPSS:

Surface view of SPSS



SPSS view on shore


Underwater view of SPSS


Construction site for SPSS

spss7 spss6

The biggest threat foreseen from SPSS:

If smugglers can carry successfully tons of cocaine and land it at their will, nothing stops terrorists to acquire this technology or buy this SPSS to meet their requirements as land based and air based terrorism is becoming difficult due to strict vigilance. Read more from Jane’s Security News. Also read the views of Admiral James Stavridis USN here.

An interesting video clip on Self Propelled Semi Submersible (SPSS) is here.

Update: September 16

USCG has released the photographs of the 59 foot steel and fiberglass SPSS seized on September 13 with seven tons of cocaine. Here are some photographs released by USCG.

SPSS Cargo hold and very low freeboard of SPSS

spss_cargo spss_low_freeboard

SPSS Communication equipment and scuttle valve to sink SPSS

spss_communication spss_scuttle_valve

SPSS Interior


SPSS Steering, Engine Control and Magnetic Compass


Update: September 19

The photograph of USS McInerney towing the SPSS is here at U.S Navy.

Update: September 20


The above image is from USCG and more information on SPSS is here.

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