Drug smugglers “sink” to new “low”

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October 20, 2008
Telegraph, London

MIAMI: Colombia’s drug barons used to favour powerboats to export their illegal cargoes, leading law enforcers on high-speed chases as they swamped the US with narcotics.
But in an attempt to evade American surveillance, they are diverting their smuggling trade beneath the waves.

picture by reuters

picture - reuters

The US Coast Guard and military patrols have reported a dramatic increase in do-it-yourself “semi-submersible” vessels that evade radar and sonar, barely breaking the ocean surface as they slowly creep through the Pacific or the Caribbean.

The US Department of Homeland Security says such voyages now account for 32 per cent of all maritime cocaine traffic between Latin America and the US. Twenty-three instances were reported between 2000 and last year, but 62 in the first nine months of this year.

Each craft can carry up to 9 tonnes of cocaine, with a wholesale value of more than $US250 million ($363 million). But even though their maximum speed is usually less than 13 knots, tracking them is a challenge.

“The ocean out there is so vast that looking for one of these things is like finding a needle in a haystack,” said Michael Sanders of the Drug Enforcement Administration. “When we first started seeing them years ago, they were kind of crude and home-built, but now they’ve become more sophisticated. These guys are starting to learn.”

In their attempts to detect and intercept the “narco-subs”, the US Coast Guard and military squads are sometimes forced into death-defying situations.

In one incident 560 kilometres off Guatemala last month, a Coast Guard boarding party climbed onto a submarine, only for its crew to suddenly thrust the engines into reverse, leaving them clinging for life to the exhaust pipes.

Then the crew opened the scuttling valves to try to sink the vessel, and attempted to escape through the conning tower, before they were overpowered.

“Our guys were up to their necks in water; it was an extraordinarily dangerous situation,” said Lieutenant Commander Chris O’Neil of the US Coast Guard.

“The operators of these vessels are directed to scuttle them in the event of discovery. Water rushes in, they can sink these things in minutes, if not seconds. This stuff sinks to the bottom of the ocean, hundreds of millions of dollars worth, and we’re left with no evidence to prosecute.”

The narco-subs are built in the jungles of Colombia and launched mainly from the country’s Pacific coast, which is considered a smuggler’s paradise for its secretive coves and thick forest.

Their hulls, usually less than 30 metres long, used to be made from wood but steel is the material of choice, topped off by fibreglass. Many are fitted with navigation equipment, radio communications and diesel engines that allow them to travel more than 4000 kilometres without refuelling.

<<editors note>>
My honest opinion has been like this for many years: no matter how repressive or aggressive one acts upon “things that shouldn’t be happening”, there will always be another creative way to get round “the system”. … that sums it up actually… so again, they do not want change… they want it to be this way… money money money… it’s what makes the war go round… oh and ofcourse it creates jobs n … lalalalalala.
source:: sidney morning herald