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Thursday, March 18, 2021

Spanish Police Seize Narco-Submarine in Málaga Raid

Officers discover vessel during wider operation in which hundreds of kilos of drugs were seized

Spanish police have announced the seizure of a homemade narco-submarine able to carry as much as two tons of cargo.

Police discovered the nine-metre (30ft) vessel last month while it was being built in the southern city of Málaga, during a broader international drug operation involving five other countries and the EU crime agency, Europol.

The semisubmersible craft was made of fiber glass and plywood panels attached to a structural frame, had three portholes on one side and was painted light blue. It had two inboard 200-horsepower engines.

Rafael Pérez, the head of the Spanish police, said it had never sailed. “We think it was going to go to sea to meet a mother ship to take on board drugs,” probably cocaine, before returning to Spain, he told reporters.

“It is like an iceberg,” he said. “In practice, nearly all of it goes underwater apart from the top, which is the only part that would be seen from another ship or a helicopter.”

Colombia's narco-submarines - a photo essay:

Police said the vessel would have been able to carry as much as two tonnes of cargo. Photograph: AP

Drugs seized from a narco-submarine
In 2019, a 20-metre (78 feet) semi-submersible craft was intercepted after running aground off the coast of Galicia. It was found to be carrying three tons of cocaine.

Similar vessels have been discovered in the past in the Pacific and Atlantic, especially off Central and South America. They are rarely able to submerge fully.

Police seized hundreds of kilos of cocaine, hashish and marijuana in various places in Spain in their wider operation this week, and 52 people were arrested.

Spanish police said in a statement that their counterparts in Colombia, the US, the UK, the Netherlands and Portugal also were involved in the operation.

With cocaine production at an almost record high in Colombia, authorities on the country’s Pacific coast say crude semi-submersible craft have become a favored tool to smuggle drugs toward the US, and even to Europe.

Dager displays a camouflaged homemade submarine

For years, they were referred to in hushed tones simply as “Big Foot” – a mythical creature rumored but never seen – but these days, the narco-submarines used by Colombia’s drug cartels have become almost commonplace.

Thirty-three submarines were intercepted in 2019, an average of almost three a month, most of them along the Pacific coast. That is a major concern for Hernando Enrique Mattos Dager, the rear admiral in charge of the Colombia’s Poseidon task-force against drug trafficking.

“Large quantities of cocaine are transported by sea,” he said. “It is much easier to move a tonne of cocaine by sea than by plane because there are more checks on freight at airports.” Dager estimates that 80% percent of the country’s illicit drugs leave via the Pacific coast and 14% go via the Caribbean.

The rudimentary submarines, fashioned in secret workshops deep in the mangrove swamps of north-western Pacific coast, are notoriously difficult for navy patrols or radar to detect. They cruise “flush with the surface of the water, and the part that protrudes above the surface is very small,” Dager said.

For all their recent success, Dager and his taskforce know that they have probably only encountered the tip of the iceberg. As with all interceptions of illicit drugs, the feeling once the initial euphoria subsides is that many more get through than are ever detected. The authorities seized 433 tons of cocaine in 2019, more than half by the navy, but production was estimated to be more than 1,000 tons.

In November, a 22-metre semi-submersible vessel was intercepted on the other side of the Atlantic, off Spain’s Galician coast. It was carrying around three tonnes of cocaine, and two of its three crew members were reportedly from Ecuador.
Members of the Colombian coastguard patrol the bay in Tumaco
A homemade submarine

Evidence of the successes of Dager’s taskforce is littered among the mangrove roots around its base in the south-western port of Tumaco. The town is situated just north of the border with Ecuador in Nariño department, which has more land under coca cultivation than anywhere else in the country. It accounted for about a quarter of the 169,000 hectares (417,600 acres) under cultivation nationwide in 2018. Tumaco is known as “the pearl of the Pacific” for its stunning beaches, but it has also become a flashpoint in Colombia’s long fight against drug trafficking.

Dager displays a camouflaged homemade narco-submarine:

Rumors that the cartels were using submarines began in the 1990s, and in 2006 the Navy intercepted one off Costa Rica with 3.5 tonnes of cocaine on board.

Painted in blue, grey and pastel greens, the submarines’ fibre-glass hulls appear to have more in common with Jules Verne’s Nautilus in his 19th-century novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea than a sophisticated seagoing submersible. But these low-profile boats are designed to take to the sea with their decks awash, carrying their cargo just beneath the waves and out of sight.

The labyrinth of mangroves that make up 80% of Colombia’s Pacific coast provide ideal cover for the small boatyards where the submarines are made, according to Colonel Nelson Ahumada Ojeda, commander of the 4th Infantry Brigade and responsible for the Nariño coast. The army has little chance of tracing the vessels’ launching platforms in “a spider’s web of some 1,500 streams,” he said.

The cramped submarines are crewed by between two and four men, usually recruited from local fishing communities, often in Ecuador. If naval patrols discover them, the crew members “open valves to let in water and sink the vessel, sinking the evidence,” before jumping into the water, said Captain Victor Santos Pacheco, commander of the local coastguard, which often rescues crews from the sea.

The vessels can reach Central America in two or three days. Those that head further north to the Mexican or US coast are replenished at sea with water, food and fuel, indicating elaborate logistics. Crew members can earn up to $50,000 (£43,000) for a long crossing, but see it as a risk worth taking, according to officials. “A kilo of cocaine is worth $30,000 on the streets of New York,” said Dager.

The task force has recently seen evidence of an increase in the use of submarines to transport marijuana. “It could correspond to the fact that its consumption has been authorized in some countries,” said Dager. “This has opened up an interesting international market ... The production of marijuana in Colombia is very economical ... at $100 a kilo, and it sells for up to $7,000 in the US.”

The cartels are constantly upping the ante in a cat-and-mouse game on the high seas. They are now using winged torpedo-like tubes known as “parasites” that are fixed to the hulls of large ships, Pacheco said. They also have a new tactic – a GPS-equipped “buoyed cargo” designed for clandestine recovery at sea.

The U.S. Coast Guard and Navy have faced an array of so-called narco submarines, purpose built for smuggling cocaine, for the last fifteen years. These are constantly evolving. Now a super-sized narco submarine has been discovered in the Colombian jungle. It represents another evolution of the threat facing U.S. Southern Command’s (SOUTHCOM) Enhanced Counter-Narcotics Operations. The U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Navy, partner navies and law enforcement are determined to stop these vessels, but it is very challenging because they are designed to get through.

The Colombian Navy, one of SOUTHCOM’s partners, made the discovery on August 6 before it could carry its payload north. It was destroyed where they found it so we may never know the full details of the design. But it is clear that it is very large, and in fact the official estimates make it the largest of its type ever found.

Colombian law enforcement sources report (in Spanish) that is was about 100 feet long, 10 feet across and able to carry 6-8 tons of narcotics. Its large size opens up the possibility that it was intended to travel farther than normal ones. This may have implications for law enforcement in North America and further afield.

“Narco-trafficking is innovative. It never stops,” he said.

Sources: Associated Press in Madrid / Guardian / Forbes


  1. I wonder if they drink tequila and smoke meth in those subs.

    1. Meth yes bt they drink moonshine and listen to Johnny cash

    2. While getting a flight to Boston with a Colombian mami then after quick stop at Starbucks

    3. Why not got to believe in your product. In the old days beer truck driver drank beer on the route.


  3. Theyre semi submersible not submarines.


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