Going into the depths: what the drug mafia submarine fleet is

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Going into the depths: what the drug mafia submarine fleet is
Going into the depths: what the drug mafia submarine fleet is
24 December 2021, 12:45TechnologyPhoto: Фото: Popular Mechanics
The Colombian drug mafia's fleet is constantly improving, and submarines and torpedoes stuffed with cocaine have replaced high-speed boats.

Alexander Chertkov

The fantasy of drug lords inventing new ways to deliver their deadly goods is sometimes astounding. There is a lot of money at stake - hundreds of billions, maybe trillions of dollars.

The drug trade is a huge business, the exact scale of which is unknown to anyone. Even United Nations (UN) experts use only estimates based on seizures. A UN report published in 2020 mentions 1,723 tons of seized cocaine. In 2018, data was provided on other drugs: 5610 tons of marijuana, 704 tons of opium, 228 tons of methamphetamine, 139 tons of heroin and morphine, 21 tons of amphetamine, 12 tons of ecstasy. About 270 million people worldwide used drugs in 2018. This is 30% higher than in 2009.

But you can get billions of dollars only by delivering goods to wholesalers. Here are drug dealers and are sophisticated in coming up with delivery methods. The most desperate dreamers were Latin American drug lords. Either the Spanish blood they got from the hidalgo plundering the New World, or the Latin American recklessness, independently acquired, or the proximity of the oceans and the genetic craving for sea romance played a role.

Hard to say. But it is the Latinos who today have a fleet of submarines of their own production and design. Apparently, nevertheless, the proximity to warm seas, washing also the rich shores of Florida and California, turned out to be a decisive factor that influenced the course of their creative thought. Rumors of submarines stuffed with cocaine off the coast of the United States appeared at the end of the last century.

From boats to submarines

According to veterans of submariners, the cargo submarines of drug lords sometimes have very good contours and equipment. Of course, they are not capable of diving to 400 meters, like a combat submarine, but some of them can already dive to a depth of 9 meters. This water column is enough for the submarine to be invisible from a flying patrol aircraft.

Their predecessors were converted speedboats. They were slightly sunk, the sides were built on and covered with a ceiling. The entire structure was covered with epoxy coated fiberglass cloth. They were powered by diesels from Cummins and Yamaha, 250 horsepower each. One or two, and sometimes more.

We needed great speed to get away from the pursuit, and stealth. Only a snorkel protrudes above the water, in translation from a professional marine - an exhaust pipe, an air intake, also a pipe and a small deckhouse with a pair of windows, in which only the captain's head is placed.

But from the air, these semi-submersible boats were clearly visible, and you can catch up with anyone. So the decision was ripe to go under water.

Подводные лодки колумбийских наркобаронов

Shallow, but imperceptible

The first submarines were very primitive. Mostly they walked on the surface, but they could, after turning off the engine, dive and hide at a shallow depth.

In the early 90s, the captain of such a submarine had to stand all the time to steer, and all the rest of the crew spent time hunched over. And this is 10-12 days.

Now the criminal technical progress has taken a big step. The length of the submarines reaches 30 meters. A work chair is provided for the navigator-captain with knowledge of maritime navigation, and for the whole team, which can now even stand upright, sleeping places are equipped with a length of one and a half meters, air conditioning and even a bathroom with a toilet and washbasin.

They are equipped with multi-band ship radio stations to keep both owners and wholesale buyers informed; equipped with autonomous diesel-electric engines so that you can go under water, and not just wait out the danger, and GPS navigators do not allow you to get lost.

One submarine is being built for about a month and a half. At a shipyard lost in the jungle, 3-4 boats are laid at once. The shipyards are located on the banks of rivers and straits, covered with arches of tropical vegetation. During strong tides, when the water level rises, boats are taken out into the ocean.

They are more expensive than semi-submersible boats, which cost up to two million dollars, but they are more difficult to find, so the submarines have become a reusable vehicle. One of the submarines detained by the Coast Guard was used 4 times. Its carrying capacity was 8 tons. It has more than paid for itself, because in the United States one gram of cocaine costs about $ 25. For one voyage, such a submarine can bring about $ 200 million.

Enlisting on a submarine in Colombia is considered a great success. For a successful voyage, the captain receives 20-25 thousand dollars. The crew members, who are recruited among poverty, get 5-6 thousand. One successful flight, and you are a rich man.

The choice pays off

“Most drug-laden submarines go unnoticed. By and large, they are caught mainly on a tip. The drug lords have many envious people and enemies. But even if we manage, according to the most optimistic expectations, to stop 20% of the submarines, more than a thousand will still reach the goal, ”said Harry Sutton, author of the Covert Shores blog and the book Narcos Submarines: A Guide to Secret Shores. He estimates that each ship carries between two and 12 tons.

Underwater drug trafficking routes run from South America to Central America and even further north to Mexico. From there, drugs are transported by land. “But drug submarines have already been seen in the Caribbean and even in Europe,” Sutton says.

“Load to the bottom! We catch a fish!"

One of the latest innovations of drug dealers are "torpedoes" - cylindrical containers 1.5 m long. They are stuffed to capacity with cocaine - 2 tons, and ballast tanks keep them under water to prevent them from floating up in time. They are filled with water during transportation and blown with compressed air during loading and unloading. The cruising depth is 30 meters, and "torpedoes" are towed on a 200-meter cable.

In a group of "fishermen" there are usually two or three boats. One of them performs the role of intelligence. If a threat arises, a command is sent to the rest of the boats, and the cargo is dropped. "Torpedoes" sink to the bottom, and beacons float up to a certain depth. Sleight of hand, and the patrol comes across simple fishermen with hard, calloused hands and salty faces, from whom you can't even get hold of a fresh fish. No luck for poor Colombian fishermen.

When the danger passes, the boats quickly find their cargo, pick them up with special hooks, and the operation continues.

“Drug dealers are looking for optimization to reduce costs and risks while maintaining profits. Until recently, this forced them to lay off crews and build simple semi-submersible low-profile vessels, says Sutton. "I think in the future we will see higher levels of automation and even unmanned vessels".

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