Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Colombian Drug Running Submarines Continue to Increase in Size and Sophistication

Latest Seizure Reveals Heavyweight Electric Submersibles Being Built in Jungle
Shipping News Feature

COLOMBIA – There has been a steady trend in maritime shipping towards implementing improved technology and ever larger vessels so that shipping companies can maximise their efficiency and, by extension, their profitability. However, this rule doesn't just apply to legitimate freight concerns, as the latest raid by anti-narcotic forces has proven.

On 5 November the Colombian Navy and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) together in a combined operation raided a makeshift boatyard hidden near the Cucurrupí River in the Chocó area of Colombia. There they discovered a high-capacity ‘narco-submarine’ nearing completion that showed a number of advanced features.

The vessel, which local authorities estimate cost $1.5 million to build, was capable of carrying a three-man crew and a cargo of up to six tonnes of cocaine, estimated to have a street value in the United States of $120 million.

This is a significantly larger cargo than is normally found in these type of illegal vessels, which average out with a payload of 1.6 tonnes when captured. Evidently at least one drug gang are exploring the cost-savings possible in up scaling.

The submarine was equipped with an all-electric drive and is thought to have a projected range of about 32 nautical miles. The intention would have been to tow the vessel to within range of the destination, then it would make its own way to the delivery point.

This drive system, though of limited range, is a significant improvement. Most narco-subs are not true submersibles, but semi-submersibles. They are designed to run exceptionally low in the water to avoid detection, often just with a small cockpit and an exhaust above the surface.

This new vessel appears to be a true submarine, capable of full submersion and extremely quiet in operation. Though limited by low range and limited air supply, it would be practically undetectable except by the very most sophisticated anti-submarine sensors.

It now remains to be seen whether this marks a new trend in the rather bizarre phenomenon that is the narco-submarine. However, seeing as a similar, earlier style of this design was captured in 2017, it looks like these vessels are going to continue to get larger and more sophisticated into the future, like their bigger freight carrying, surface borne cousins.