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Submarines: The War In The Pacific
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July 7, 2008: The submarine war off the northwest (Pacific) coast of South America is getting, well, strange. For the last few years, the cocaine producing gangs of Colombia have been having considerable success exporting their product via submarines. About a third of the 600 tons of cocaine coming out of Colombia each year leaves via the Pacific coast. Most of this is being carried in submarines, that move the cocaine to North American. Off the Pacific coast, it's believed that only about five percent of these subs have been caught.

These are not submarines in the true sense of the word, but "semi-submersibles". They are 40-50 foot fiberglass boats, powered by a diesel engine, with a small "conning tower" above the water, providing the crew (of 4-5), and engine, with fresh air, and permitting the crew to navigate the boat. A boat of this type is the only practical kind of "submarine" for drug smuggling. A real submarine would be much more difficult to build, although you can buy commercial subs for a million dollars or so. These, however, can carry only a few hundred pounds of cargo, and not for long distances.

The semi-submersibles are built, often using specially made components brought in from foreign components, in areas along the Colombian coast, or other drug gang controlled territory). Russian naval architects and engineers have been discovered among those designing and building these boats. Based on interrogations of captured gang members, these subs cost about $600,000 to construct, and carry about ten tons of cocaine.

At one point it was thought that as many as half of them were captured or lost at sea. But this is apparently not the case. That's because most of these "subs" are built for a one way trip. This keeps down the cost of construction, and the cost of hiring a crew. That one voyage will usually be for about a thousand kilometers, with the boat moving at a speed of 15-25 kilometers an hour. So the average trip will take a day and a half.

Some subs have been caught while being towed by a larger ship. Apparently this enables the semi-submersibles to cover longer distances, and then be cut loose for the final approach to the shore of California or some area in Europe or on the east coast of North America. While the subs are most frequently used from the Pacific coast of Colombia, they are showing up elsewhere as well.

These subs are not stealthy enough to avoid detection all the time. However, it appears that these semi-submersibles do work, because the drug gangs keep using them more and more. Delivery by sea is now the favored method for cocaine smugglers, because the United States has deployed military grade aircraft detection systems, and caught too many of the airborne drug shipments. The smugglers did their math, and realized that improvised submarines were a more cost-effective way to go.

The Colombians are trying to get the United States more involved in shutting down this submarine operation, pointing out that terrorists could use similar vessels to attack U.S. warships, or targets along the coast. Replacing the ten tons of cocaine with explosives is pretty easy to do.

Meanwhile, the Colombian Army is clearing the Pacific coast of areas that are capable of hiding these building operations (which are usually along a river that empties into the Pacific). This process will take several more years, so for now it's up to the navy and air force to catch these subs after they enter the ocean.

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