👀 U.S. Coast Guard chase down and leap onboard a “narco-submarine” (a semi-submersible vessel used in drug trafficking), off the coast of South America, netting 16,000 pounds of cocaine, part of a $570 million drug bust.
2. Narco-submarines are especially known to be used by Colombian drug cartel members to export cocaine from Colombia to Mexico, which is often then transported overland to US.
Narco-submarines are designed to evade detection visually or by radar, sonar and infrared systems.
3. Colombia's Pacific coastline, where muddy rivers loop into the ocean, has long been a drug smugglers' paradise. Behind the jagged cliffs that jut into the ocean is a vast jungle, laced with mangrove-fringed coves and thousands of miles of waterways, and clandestine shipyards.
4. Materials to build a narco-submarine are transported to the heart of the jungle; heavy equipment such as propulsion gear and generators are assembled under the jungle canopy, in camps outfitted with sleeping quarters for workers. They cost about $2 million to build.
5. Because the structure is fiberglass and it travels barely under the surface, a narcosubmarine is nearly impossible to detect via sonar or radar, and difficult to spot visually. Exhaust piper along the bottom of the hull cools it before venting it, to evade infrared detection.
6. Narcosubmarines are most easily spotted visually from the air, though that is difficult as they are camouflaged with blue paint and produce almost no wake - trickier in cloudy or choppy conditions. Ballast tanks alter the vessel's buoyancy to ride low in the water.
7. When narcosubmarines are stopped at sea, their crews usually scuttle them, sending the cargo/cocaine to the bottom. Until 2008, in accordance with maritime law, the crew was rescued and, if there was no physical evidence of wrongdoing, released without criminal charges.
8. To address this legal loophole, the US Drug Trafficking Vessel Interdiction Act was enacted in September 2008, making it a felony to knowingly operate a “narcosubmarine” with the intent to evade detection. The penalty is a prison term of up to twenty years in the US.
9. This narcosubmarine was one of 14 separate drug smuggling vessels intercepted off the coasts of Mexico, Central and South America May-July 2019.
39,000 pounds of cocaine and 933 pounds of marijuana— worth ~ $570 million, was seized during that time.
10. The 2008 bill grants extraterritorial jurisdiction over international waters, and makes it illegal to lack documents. Instead of an anti-narcotics operation turning into a rescue mission when narcosubmarines are scuttled to sink evidence, the crew can be arrested and charged.
11. US authorities have also discovered unmanned, "narco-torpedos": GPS-equipped containers that float at about 30 m under water while being towed by a boat. If a patrol ship is spotted, the "torpedo" is released, which activates a camouflage that resembles marine debris.
12. According to official statistics, however, the most commonly intercepted marine drug vessels are not submersibles like narcosubmarines or narcotorpedoes but “go-fast” boats which have been popular with South American drug traffickers for decades. Drones could join the list.
13. As autonomous technology becomes more widely and cheaply available, more drug traffickers could use a combination of fast autonomous boats and high capacity narcodrones and unmanned narcosubmarines to move drugs to their destinations/end points. https://www.cbsnews.com/video/border-patrol-fights-drug-carrying-drones-flying-across-u-s-mexico-border/ …
14. By removing humans from the transportation process, drug cartels can reap higher profits and evade criminal charges. This could then force authorities to clamp down on the ultimate users and possessors of the contraband/narcotics.
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