U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement divers surface after checking one side of the hull of the 498-foot container ship M/V Seaboard Pride in the murky waters of the Port of Miami in Miami. The divers were searching the ship for so-called "parasitic"devices used to smuggle drugs and potentially, terrorist bombs or weapons.
The so-called parasitic devices have been found on vessels in Miami, West Palm Beach and elsewhere containing bricks of cocaine and other illegal drugs — although, so far, no bombs or weapons.
It's not as easy as it seems. The water was dark green, even on a sunny February morning. Currents are treacherous and unpredictable in the relatively shallow water about 15 feet below the surface. The divers sometimes encounter sharks, barracuda and eels, and they can feel strong vibrations from the ship inches above.
Miami in the 1980s was a main avenue for cocaine, and U.S. officials don't want a return to the violent "cocaine cowboy" days, when rival drug traffickers battled in South Florida for control.
Sometimes a ship is targeted because it spent time in a drug-source country such as Colombia. Other times, tips are received about ships that may have had boxes attached during repairs or maintenance when they are taken out of the water.
It's extremely dark, and the divers can only see about four to seven feet ahead, said Alan Vega, a team member who has done about 100 dives over the past three years.
When they aren't scanning the cargo vessels, the divers also scour waterways when presidents and dignitaries visit. Sometimes they have kept watch while investigating drug trafficking and other crimes, or helped local police locate guns and stolen cars from lakes and quarries.
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement dive team, formed in 2004, is the only one of its kind in the U.S.