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drug-running subs, 27th April 2011
As drug cartels become increasingly sophisticated, so
too are their methods of avoiding detection from drug
enforcement agencies, the military and the police.
Semi-submersible vehicles - so-called because unlike true
submarines they must run just below the surface - have
been used by drug-smugglers since the early-1990s, with
the first being discovered in 1993.
These semi-submersibles, sometimes called narco subs,
sit just below the water line, with only the exhaust,
air intake and access hatch above the waves. They are
difficult, but not impossible to spot by patrolling aircraft
and ships, and they also have a very small radar and sonar
Narco-subs are usually rather crudely constructed, using
wood, plastic tubing and off-the-shelf fiberglass to form
the hulls, and clunky old diesel engines for power. Despite
this, they can cost upwards of $2 million each, and construction
can last over a year. It seems odd then that many are
designed for one-time use, and after they've reached their
destination and the cargo is offloaded the crews scuttle
the vessel before making the return journey onboard a
conventional boat. But when you consider the drugs onboard
may have been worth over $400 million, the sub's price
is nothing but a minor business expense.
Recently however, US and Colombian authorities have been
discovering ever more sophisticated semi-submersibles,
and even some genuine submarines capable of diving and
running entirely beneath the surface. Last year, for the
very first time a fully-submersible vessel was captured
by Colombian authorities. Then in February a second submarine
was discovered while it was under construction.
Drug enforcement agencys in the US and South America are
now worried that drug-runners are increasingly turning
toward these fully submersible vessels and away from the
semi-submersibles. Officials point out that in the last
two years seizures of semi-submersibles have dropped significantly.
That could mean many drug-traffickers have already made
the switch to true submarines, and the trade is booming
undetected beneath the waves.
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