Increasingly Sophisticated 'Narco Subs' Move Tons of Colombian Coke to the U.S.
Operation Twin Oceans was a "multi-jurisdictional investigation" that targeted one of the most-wanted alleged drug kingpins, Colombia's Pablo Rayo-Montano. Authorities say his drug trafficking organization included production, international transportation and distribution. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Rayo-Montano used a vast array of vessels, including the submersible pictured here, to smuggle tons of cocaine from Colombia to the United States and Europe.
The DEA says Rayo-Montano's drug ring was responsible for putting more than 15 tons of Colombian cocaine on U.S. and European streets every month. Operation Twin Oceans, which lasted three years and ended in May 2006, netted Rayo-Montano and more than 100 other individuals, as well as 52 tons of cocaine and nearly $70 million in assets.
This submarine-like craft was captured by the Colombian Navy in July 2007 off the Pacific coast of Colombia. These vessels have become a secret weapon of cartels because they are extremely difficult to detect, especially from the water. The vessels are almost submersed, can evade radar reflections, and usually are painted to blend in with the water. The U.S. has been most effective at spotting submersibles from the air.
Colombian jungles are the main sites for manufacturing these submersibles, according to U.S. Coast Guard Rear Adm. Joe Nimmich, former head of the Joint Interagency Task Force, a multinational anti-drug smuggling task force. The process is simple: get an engine, build the boat around it, load the cocaine, get it in the water and go. Such submersibles are neither comfortable, nor safe, but Rear Adm. Nimmich admitted that the pay is appealing to smugglers. "They get paid a lot of money for it; that's why they do it," he told ABC News in 2007. The image is an outside view of the portholes of a submersible
"It's a one-way vessel," Rear Adm. Nimmich told ABC News. "It's the cost of doing business for them [drug cartels]." Although drug cartels often spend a million dollars or more to build a sub, the payoffs can be enormous and justify the cost. Cartels can transport several tons of cocaine with a street value in the hundreds of millions of dollars on each sub. This image shows just how tight it can get inside the submersible.
Surprisingly sophisticated homemade "Narco subs" are the drug cartels' latest tool for smuggling drugs from Latin America into the U.S. Although cartels once relied on speed boats to outrun authorities, they have shifted their focus to submersible vessels that are hard for surface vessels to spot. One of the first such craft intercepted was this Russian-designed submarine, confiscated by police on September 7, 2000 while under construction on the outskirts of Bogota. The submarine could have had the capacity to carry at 150 metric tons of cocaine or heroin. A Colombian military official said Russian-language documents found alongside the partially completed, 100-foot-long vessel led authorities to conclude that "the Russian Mafia or Russian technicians" were involved in its construction.
An official walks next to another submersible craft used for cocaine smuggling in Buenaventura, a seaport on the Pacific coast of Colombia, on June 13, 2008. Known as a 'narco torpedo,' this type of submersible is more difficult to detect from the air than most semi-submersibles used by traffickers. The craft is towed by a regular fishing boat, and if a patrol ship is spotted, the 'torpedo' cargo container is released. While remaining submerged, it releases a buoy disguised as a wooden log with a location transmitter for a second supporting fishing vessel to retrieve it and continue delivery. (Jaime Saldarriaga/Reuters)
A man walks between a makeshift fiberglass submarine, front, and speedboats, used to smuggle cocaine by Colombian drug traffickers, in Buenaventura, June 24, 2008. Drug traffickers have used a range of crafts, including speed boats, sail boats, fishing boats, and semi-submersibles, to penetrate coastal defenses. U.S. officials are concerned that since approximately four out of every five subs escape detection, these vessels also could be used to ship weapons or personnel. The sub pictured here has the capacity to hold 10 tons of drugs, a payload worth well over $200 million. (Jaime Saldarriaga/Reuters)
Mexican Marines guard six tons of cocaine on a dock in Salina Cruz on the Pacific coast of Mexico, July 18, 2008. The drugs were seized on-board a makeshift 32-foot-long submarine. Mexican authorities seized the vessel carrying these drugs after receiving a tip from the U.S. The submersible, which was equipped with a GPS and compass, was traveling from Colombia and intended to drop off its roughly $130 million payload somewhere along the shore of Mexico. U.S. officials say that drug traffickers use the vessels to carry about 32 percent of the cocaine moved by water from South America to the United States.
This semi-submersible vessel was caught in the Pacific Ocean in September 2008 en route from Colombia to the United States. Carrying a 4 person crew, the 60' x 12' craft held 7 tons of cocaine, which has a street value in excess of $150 million. The vessel is docked as a display at the U.S. Coast Guard base in Key West, Florida in this picture, taken on February 17, 2009. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)
In this photo taken in early January 2009, a drug trafficking crew abandons a semi-submersible vessel before being intercepted by a U.S. ship about 150 miles northwest of the Colombia-Ecuador border. Often, the crews of these semi-submersibles abandon and attempt to sink their vessels to destroy key evidence when they realize that they are about to be captured. (U.S. Navy)
Heh . . . looks like they bought their life raft at Wal-Mart - S.L.
Typically, the subs are built quickly in the jungle, utilizing power from electric generators, in order to avoid authorities. Ecuadorean police officers stand over a submarine designed to carry drugs toward the United States. Authorities discovered the 98-foot-long submarine, which reportedly cost $4 million to build and was capable of carrying 10 tons of cocaine and a 6-member crew, near the country's Pacific Coast. The sub, which was nearing completion, marked a quantum leap in drug-smuggling evasion technology, the top U.S. counter-drug official for the region said. "It is the first fully functional, completely submersible submarine for transoceanic voyages that we have ever found," Jay Bergman, Andean regional director for the Drug Enforcement Administration, said. The sub, which can reach depths of 65 feet, was captured on July 2, 2010