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Submarines Loaded With Tons of Drugs Seized in Pacific Ocean

Submarine loaded with drugs
Colombia and Ecuador intercepted two submarines loaded with drugs in the Pacific, seizing significant drug shipments and arresting individuals. Image:U.S. Coast Guard boarding team members climb aboard a suspected smuggling vessel in September credit: Defense Visual Information Distribution Service / Public Domain

Colombia and Ecuador seized two submarines loaded with drugs, specifically cocaine, in Pacific Ocean waters. The two semi-submersibles were intercepted by the authorities of both countries over the past weekend.

According to reports, the Colombian Navy intercepted the narco-submarine on January 21st, and it was approximately fifteen meters long and gray in color. The submarine was detained near the port of Buenaventura, on Colombia’s Pacific coast, and was carrying 795 kilos of cocaine. The three people on board were arrested.

Ecuador seizes submarine loaded with drugs, finds 3 tons of cocaine

On January 20th, the Ecuadorian Armed Forces announced the seizure of another semi-submersible, which was also traveling in the Pacific Ocean, with more than three tons of cocaine.

The narco-submarine, like the one seized in Colombia, was gray in color and measured 15 meters long. The operation took place some 60 kilometers off the coast of Esmeraldas, in northwestern Ecuador. The three Colombian nationals who were found on board the vessel, which was carrying drugs worth $50 million, were arrested.

International collaboration against drug trafficking

The anti-drug operations were made possible by police and military collaboration between the two countries. The fight against drug trafficking, which fuels the illegal armed groups that sow terror in the regions, is being reinforced, despite the discrepancies between the presidents’ different approaches to this battle.

A United Nations report indicates that 2022 was a record year for drug crops in Colombia. Coca leaf cultivation in the country, the raw material for cocaine production, increased by 13% to 230,000 hectares planted.

Although Ecuador does not produce cocaine, it is one of the main drug trafficking corridors in the continent and functions as a stockpiling and transit point for this drug coming from Colombia.Ecuador recognized the dollar as legal tender two decades ago. This eases illegal trade by speeding up money transfers and making it easier to launder large sums.

Increasingly powerful illegal armed groups

In reality, the substantial cocaine trade is feeding the illegal armed groups that proliferate on both sides of the border between the two countries. The bottom line is that criminal gangs are becoming increasingly powerful, thanks to the multi-million dollar profits from drug trafficking.

Ecuador closed 2023 with an unprecedented rate of 46 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants and began 2024 with the declaration of internal armed conflict by the government of Daniel Noboa against the criminal gangs that form part of the international drug trafficking chain.

In Colombia, the Total Peace dialogue initiative, for now, is not advancing as fast as the Colombian government would like, while it is being strongly questioned by the opposition, which accuses the State of facilitating the strengthening of criminal groups.

This is the first seizure of this type in 2024. In November of last year, a similar vessel with a five-ton shipment of drugs was seized in a maritime zone of Galapagos, and in 2022 another with two tons in the same place.

Narco-submarines, not a new phenomenon

The use of submersibles to transport narcotics from their production region to their consumption areas in the United States and Europe is nothing new. These vessels began to be used in the late 1990s. Some are capable of crossing the Atlantic Ocean, replacing high-speed vessels as countries improved their detection systems.

They are usually of domestic construction, although others are remarkably sophisticated. Between 1993 and 2008, 26 narco-submarines were seized in Colombia, both under construction and at sea; during 2007, the Colombian armed forces seized a total of thirteen narco-submarines, and during 2008, eight were seized. The U.S. Coast Guard is currently programming and adjusting its hydrophones (marine microphone) to detect the particular sounds of this type of vessel from a long distance.

In 2006, the United States intercepted its first drug submersible 145 kilometers west of Costa Rica. By 2008, it reported detecting ten per month. Colombia’s west coast has numerous rivers running through the jungle and into the Pacific Ocean, facilitating the construction of clandestine shipyards. These are difficult to discover, but offer easy access to the sea. The value of the drug trafficking submersibles seized so far amounts to US$1 million.

*The article was first published in Colombia One and was republished with permission.

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