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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.