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Submarine May Represent Latest Vogue In Drug-Smuggling

November 11, 1988

BOCA RATON, Fla. (AP) _ A mysterious 21-foot unmanned submarine discovered off Florida’s coast may represent the latest in drug-smuggling techniques, but drug officials are sidestepping comment on the underwater capsule.

Boat experts say the submarine was designed so a smuggler could tow it behind his boat, submerging it by remote control if law agents approached, then retrieving the cargo later.

″Drug dealers are very creative,″ said police Sgt. Alan Dares.

There were no drugs found aboard the sub, which was spotted by surfers and retrieved Thursday by local salvager David Kellerman.

The hatch, equipped with a wrench, could be opened only from the outside. The red-painted interior of the capsule was empty except for 4,000 pounds of lead bars serving as ballast. It had no portholes and apparently was not designed to carry people.

Federal drug investigators didn’t want to comment.

U.S. Customs Service officials inspected the sub Thursday, but declined to say anything.

″I can’t say whether we’ve seen anything like this before. It’s confidential,″ said Coast Guard Petty Officer James Carr.

Keven Peterson, general manager of H.A. Perry Foundation Inc., which builds small submarines in Riviera Beach, said there are legitimate purposes for such craft, but doubts this submarine was engaged in one.

″In my 27 years in the business, I’ve never seen anything like it. It looks like something that would carry cargo like drugs,″ Peterson said. ″The only other thing it could be used for is electronics, but it doesn’t look sophisticated enough.″

Discovered Wednesday and first dismissed as a barge float, interest in the mysterious capsule resurfaced when Kellerman got it to the beach and opened up the hatch.

″We didn’t know if we were going to find a body. Everybody said it might be Jimmy Hoffa in it,″ said Kellerman, referring to the former Teamsters president who disappeared a number of years ago.

A few wires remained on the sub’s outside surface, possibly the umbilical cord of a remote control system. It had four air tanks, two on each side, with metal grid walkways over them. A rudder-like stabilizer 5 feet high and 7 feet wide was at the rear.

One local law enforcement agent, who asked not to be identified, told the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel that ″There is no other use for it″ than drug smugglng.

Kellerman can keep the sub if no one claims it, police said. Another salvager, Rick Varney, estimated the sub is worth $20,000.

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