January 10, 2008:
The Colombian Navy
took down yet another cocaine carrying submarine, off the Pacific coast. This
is the second one in a month. Like the last one, this sub appeared to be
carrying several tons of cocaine, but the crew scuttled the craft before the
navy could capture it. The water was too deep, where the craft went down, to
recover it. The crew of the submersible was captured, and found to have traces
of cocaine on their clothing. The Colombian navy has captured or destroyed
(usually with the crew sinking the sub to avoid the government capturing its
precious cargo, and any incriminating documents on board) 18 such craft in the
last three years, and four in the last four months. The Colombians are not
talking about any new air reconnaissance methods they may be using to spot
these stealthy craft, or if they are getting assistance from the U.S.
(something like long range heat sensors perhaps).
The air force has increased it patrols,
specifically looking for such craft. The air force then calls in a the navy to
attempt a capture. The subs, made of fiberglass, are constructed by the drug
gangs, using technicians and materials brought in for the purpose. This costs
several hundred thousand dollars per boat. Which is not so bad when you
consider that each voyage moves a cargo worth $100 million or more. The craft
are from 50-80 feet in length, have a crew of three or four, and carry 3-10
tons of cocaine up the coast to Central America, or farther north.
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-submersibles" that are coming out of
Colombia (and even 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 the drug gangs keep
using them. 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.