Photo: Colombian drug subs are harder to detect due to size and construction
Until last month, the boat of choice for Colombian drug traffickers was the semisubmersible, which would float just below the water’s surface and only have the air and exhaust pipes above water. Now, however, the smugglers have graduated to full on submarines to covertly transport their drugs.
In February, a 70-foot long submarine was impounded by the military at a shipyard near Colombia’s Pacific coast. The homemade vessel was equipped with a compartment capable of holding eight tons, and three tons of cocaine were found nearby.
Just seven months earlier, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) assisted in the capture of a 100-foot diesel-powered submarine along a stream that led out to the Pacific south of the Colombian border of Ecuador.
Jay Bergman, head of the Andean division of the DEA said that it is clear that narco traffickers have taken a “quantum leap in technology.” Somewhat frightening is the ingenuity of the traffickers, who use materials from places like Home Depot to make something able to make two-week runs.
“Pictures do not do them justice,” says Bergman. “You have to see the subs to get a perspective of how large they are and how much effort it takes to build them.”
So far though, these aquatic vessels are not meant for luxurious travel. In fact, when a Colombian navy lieutenant piloted the 70-footer after it was confiscated, he said the poor ventilation caused the temperature inside to reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit, making it difficult to breathe. Also, a now retired Colombian trafficker, who made trips in similar vessels, said the conditions those in the subs are “hellish.”
What makes these such effective forms of drug transport is the fact that, since they are smaller than what it usually picked up using sonar, and the ocean is vast, it is hard to detect them. Add to that, the fact that traditional subs are large and metal, which disturb the earth’s magnetic field, making it easier to detect with sonar, these smaller ones are mostly made of fiberglass and contain very little steel.
Even if these vessels are detected, Bergman said the practical and legal procedures for forcing it to the surface are still unclear.
It is believed that 70 percent of the cocaine leaving Colombia’s Pacific coast in 20009 was loaded in these “semisubs.”
For now, Colombian officials are continuing their fumigation program, using crop dusters to try kill coca bushes before their leaves are able to be made into cocaine.