Submarines: Drug Gangs Expand Their Fleet

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November 2, 2007: In Colombia, police have captured two more submarines [PHOTO], used by drug gangs to transport cocaine past air and naval patrols. This makes nine such craft the Colombians have captured in the last two years. One of the recently captured subs was under construction and about 70 percent complete. The other was ready for use, a 56 foot craft capable of carrying five tons of cocaine.

In late 2006, the U.S. Coast Guard spotted and seized a similar "submarine" off the coast of Costa Rica. They found the boat contained a crew of four, and 3.5 tons of cocaine. That cargo was worth about $140 million dollars (wholesale price, when sold to dealers). Certainly worth the several hundred thousand dollars or so it cost to build the "submarine." Actually, these are not submarines in the true sense of the word, but "semi-submersibles". The fiberglass boats, powered by a diesel engine, have a small "conning tower" above the water, providing the crew, 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 main problem with real subs is that they are not much more effective than the "semi-submersible" that was caught off Costa Rica. Others have been found in Colombia and Europe.

Submarines can only travel underwater, on battery power, for a short time. Otherwise, they are on the surface, or in a "semi-submersible" state, running on diesel power. So the drug gangs had the right idea, but their "sub" was not stealthy enough to avoid detection all the time. However, it appears that these "semi-submersibles" do work, because this was not the first one encountered. In addition to the nine found recently in Colombia, over a dozen have been encountered, mainly in South America, over the last decade. Most of them are apparently getting through. 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.

 


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