Drug submarines are becoming increasingly popular for drug smugglers seeking a new DIY solution to bring more of their drugs into America.
Among the confiscated marijuana catapults and engineered mega-tunnels, a new fleet of diesel-powered, fully submersible narco-subs are seeking to make their mark, reports Popular Science.
The latest fiberglass models are also a far cry from the beginning, when feds first discovered rickety, barely-submerged metal husks. Now, some of the latest discoveries come complete with air conditioning, shark paint jobs, and quick-scuttle technology, to sink the ship easily with the drugs inside.
Drug-smuggling submarines were first heard of in the 1990s, but they didn’t get much attention until 2006 in the eastern Pacific Ocean when the US Coast Guard intercepted a semi-submersible they called “Bigfoot.” Since then, federal authorities have seized at least 25 ships like it in the Pacific.
Including the Pacific Ocean, these narco subs have recently cropped up tin the Caribbean, with the Coast Guard intercepting five in the last year. In a raid in August 2011, Coast Guard officers intercepted a load of 15,000 pounds of cocaine, worth $180 million, in a drug submarine off of the Honduras coast.
They have since discovered three fully submersible models capable of hauling 10 tons of cocaine, and conceivably able to travel from Ecuador to Los Angeles, coming up at night only to recharge their batteries.
The New York Times notes that Cmdr. Mark J. Fedor of the Coast Guard, who commands the Mohawk, a 200-foot vessel who interdicted the first drug submarine seen in the Caribbean last year, stated:
“These vessels are seaworthy enough that I have no doubt in my mind that if they had enough fuel, they could easily sail into a port in the United States.”
There are more than ships, cutters, and helicopters working to intercept these new narco-subs. They are helped by a command center, known as Joint Interagency Task Force-South, which combines workers from the Departments of Homeland Security, Justice, State and Defense, as well as intelligence agencies and liaison officers from over a dozen nations who analyze threads of information on drug trafficking.
The task force is 600 people strong, and they cue ships, aircraft, and counternarcotics units on the ground, in order to intercept drug smugglers up and down the hemisphere. In 2011 alone, these interdiction missions captured 129 tons of cocaine on its way to the US, more than five times the amount of the cocaine seized through operations in the United States during the same time (they captured 24 tons of the drug).
Despite this promising statistic, however, three-quarters of potential drug shipments identified by the task force are not intercepted, because there aren’t enough ships and aircraft available for this missions to capture the drug submarines.