“Narco-submarines” ferry cocaine and other drugs through ocean waters
They are known as “narco-submarines” – semi-submersible ships used to transport narcotics across ocean waters.
And they play a leading role in drug trafficking because they are essential tools that Colombian criminal groups use to send their main product, cocaine, to their main distributors: Mexican drug organizations such as Sinaloa Cartel and Jalisco. New Generation Cartel.
Last month, acting United States lawyer Karin Hoppmann announced that six Colombians had pleaded guilty to conspiring to use these ships to smuggle more than 19,000 kilograms, or 42,000 pounds, of cocaine. to the Sinaloa cartel in Mexico.
Investigation:Cartel violence in Mexico forces people to flee their homes, leaving ghost towns behind
According to a statement by the US Department of Justice, the defendants were part of a transnational criminal organization that sent narco-submarines from Colombia to the Pacific Ocean, intended for members of the Sinaloa cartel in the Mexican state of ‘Oaxaca.
In 2015 and 2016, the statement said the United States intercepted three ships traveling from Colombia to Mexico, each carrying thousands of kilograms of cocaine, “a substantial portion of which” was “ultimately destined for the United States.”
Narco-submarines are hand-made structures painted in the colors of the ocean so that they are difficult to detect. They are hermetically sealed, contain diesel or electric motors, and are either self-propelled or carry people who help ensure drugs get to their destination.
For years, they have been used by cartels to smuggle cocaine and other drugs, primarily from Colombia and Ecuador to Central America, Mexico and the United States. They allow Colombian gangs, in association with Mexican drug cartels, to move drugs quickly and increase their profits.
“Over the past decade, the production of submersibles has increased due to the great interest of criminal organizations,” said Mario Pazmiño, former Ecuadorian army intelligence chief and security analyst.
“They have two important characteristics: their streamlined movement on the coast makes them much less detectable because of their appearance”, and large volumes of drugs “can be loaded and transported quickly”.
In depth :Native Americans are facing a deadly drug crisis. How tapping into culture helps them heal
Move tons of drugs
But narco-submarines do not always escape the authorities. Several government radars and Navy patrols have recorded an increasing number in recent months.
In September, Colombian Defense Minister Diego Molano announced the capture of a narco-submarine belonging to the “Gulf Clan”, a Colombian criminal organization. Three cartel members were arrested.
The ship, bound for Central America, could carry three tons of drugs.
Since 2018, 111 narco-submarines have been seized, Colombian authorities said. On average, ships carry approximately 286,600 pounds of cocaine and 1,543 pounds of marijuana. Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica and El Salvador are the most popular routes for drug traffickers.
“Large quantities of cocaine are transported by sea,” Hernando Mattos Dager, a Colombian army official, told the Guardian in a previous report. “It’s much easier to transport a ton of cocaine by sea than by plane because there are more cargo checks at airports.”
Drug traffic:Detroit’s drug pipeline targets Native Americans in North Dakota. How they fight
Experts say a significant portion of Colombia’s illicit drugs pass through the Pacific coast and the rest via the Caribbean. So far this year, Colombian authorities have seized 623 tonnes of coca leaves, according to official figures.
Almost 36% of the cocaine produced in Colombia passes through Ecuadorian territory, which amounts to around 700 tonnes, Pazmiño said, adding that Ecuador “has managed to detect and neutralize 130 tonnes”. This means that 570 tonnes reached their destination, sometimes in the United States.
Since narco-submarines carry cargo worth millions of dollars, traffickers hire engineers to build them.
“They need special training on building, designing ships so they can secure them first,” Pazmiño said.
“It doesn’t matter what lives the people who come in. What interests them is the number of drugs they can carry inside. If a submarine sinks or falls in failure, it will be a millionaire’s waste; we’re talking about $ 100 million or $ 200 million. “
Demand for cocaine fuels supply
Where there is a demand for drugs, the supply will follow.
Globally, around 20 million people reported using cocaine in the past year of 2019, equivalent to 0.4% of the world’s population aged 15 to 64, according to the World Report on Drugs 2021 from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
In the United States, a federal investigation found that approximately 5.5 million people aged 12 and over reported using cocaine in the past year in 2019 and 2020.
Meanwhile, overdose deaths in the United States involving cocaine have increased. In 2017, they increased by more than 34%, killing nearly 14,000 Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
With such demand for drugs, the United States is the most important market for the cartels. Mexican criminal organizations dominate the importation and distribution of cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin in America.
Cartels:Where do the Mexican drug cartels get their guns? Often the United States
Of these drugs, cocaine is among the drugs seized most often at U.S. ports of entry, according to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. In FY2020, cocaine accounted for 74% of drugs seized.
One of the reasons is that the production of cocaine has increased in recent years.
Coca cultivation and cocaine production reached a record 605,408 acres and 1,010 metric tons, the White House announced in July.
“These trends show the need to increase holistic approaches that combine economic development, increased government presence and citizen security, prohibition and eradication in key rural areas to reduce cocaine production,” said the White House said in a press release.
The Colombian government cited figures from the United States Office of National Drug Control Policy on coca and cocaine production showing that the fight against illicit drugs continues to be a huge challenge, and said Colombia and the United States will continue to join forces as partners and allies.
But as governments continue to fight drug trafficking, traffickers are modernizing their narco-submarines.
In 2019, a 72-foot-long vessel set sail from Colombia to Galicia, Spain, sailing more than 4,970 miles before being intercepted by Spanish authorities. He was carrying over 6,613 pounds of cocaine.
Last August, Colombian authorities seized a narco-submarine in the Pacific Ocean that was carrying 18 tons of cocaine, or about 4.5 million doses, worth $ 60 million.
And at the end of October, Ecuadorian army intercepted in international waters another narco-submarine, with three new diesel engines attached.
Elizabeth Dickinson, senior analyst for Colombia at the International Crisis Group, said the Colombian government’s approach to stem the international drug supply is counterproductive because it focuses on destroying coca. “And essentially what it does is penalize the weaker parts of Colombian society, which are very poor farmers who grow coca while having minimal effect on the actual profit centers of the armed groups. “
Instead, she said: “The focus of drug policy in Colombia needs to shift up the supply chain. So let’s focus on the destruction of raw materials more specifically on targeting funding for these organizations and the disarticulation of the profit networks that surround them. “
Karol Suárez is a journalist born in Venezuela and based in Mexico City. Join her on Twitter: @KarolSuarez_