Submarines: July 15, 2002


It's long been thought that stories about Colombian drug cartels having, or trying to get, submarines was more myth than reality. But enough information, and evidence, has surfaced over the last few years to confirm these stories. The drug cartels are building a fleet of submarines and semisubmersibles. The cartels have the money, and the need. Over the last two years, Colombian police have captured two submarines being built for drug smugglers. One was in an advanced state of construction. It was 78 feet long and was estimated to cost $10 million if finished. These were coastal subs, thought to be designed by Italian naval engineers who had originally come to Colombia in the late 1990s to supervise the construction of small commando subs for the navy. The drug cartels are believed to already use several semisubmersibles (boats that travel with only a small conning tower showing above the water.) These craft can sneak drugs out to larger ships waiting offshore. The drug smugglers are thought to favor freighters that specialize in moving toxic wastes. Because of the noxious, and dangerous, nature of those toxic cargos, these ships are less likely to be inspected by customs or coast guard officials. The drug cartels would like to get longer range subs, and have been trying for over ten years. In the early 1990s, one of the cartels apparently did buy a Russian diesel boat (at a time when the former Soviet navy was getting rid of a lot of older ships.) But the sub was lost off the Pacific coast of Colombia due to mishandling. This was apparently because the Colombians were not able to induce enough experienced Russian submariners to train a new Colombian crew. It's only a matter of time before the cartels do have a number of small, difficult to detect subs for moving drugs between north and south America. 


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