Submarines: Civilian Subs Become a Nuisance

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July 11, 2007: Over the last decade, luxury boat builders have begun building submarine yachts. Submarine construction technology has come a long way in the past century, and it's possible to build these boats at an affordable ($15-200 million) cost. They are safe, and there are about a hundred of them out there. A few companies have gained a lot of experience building subs for non-military underwater operations (academic research, oil exploration), which has created a cadre of information and technicians who can build these recreational subs. One of the largest civilian submarine yards is in Dubai, where 18 have been built so far, and over two dozen are under construction or on order. Another large operation is U.S. Submarines, in Seattle, a company that has built most of the scientific communities subs over the last two decades. These submersible pleasure craft look like streamlined yachts while on the surface. The upper deck, including the bridge, is outside the pressure hull. When submerging, everyone goes below, and the upper deck get flooded. If you get close to one of these yachts, it becomes obvious that they are built to dive. Military subs are still not used to encountering this civilian traffic underwater. The military boats have the right of way, but military boats are now warned to exercise extra care when approaching coastal areas used by civilian subs.

Owners of these luxury subs tend to be secretive, and the builders have agreed to some government oversight, especially to make sure militarized subs, that can carry torpedoes or mines, are not built. But there is no law against anyone owning one of these submarines, and it's feared that it's only a matter of time before drug dealers, gun runners, or even terrorists, get their hands on some of them. Some police officials believe this has already happened, but no one is saying much,

The civilian subs don't dive as deep as military subs, and are not built for combat. They have staterooms and large windows. But they do have carrying capacity, and that could be put to criminal uses. Already, Colombian gangs have been caught trying to build subs, using Russian advisors. And at least one submersible (a sub that travels just below the surface) was caught carrying cocaine.

 


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