HomeNewsAnalysisWhy Colombia Traffickers Love High-Tech 'Narco Torpedoes'

Why Colombia Traffickers Love High-Tech 'Narco Torpedoes'


Authorities in Colombia claim to have discovered a new method of trafficking illegal drugs, but it is not the only innovative smuggling technique being used by the country's more sophisticated criminal groups.

On October 23, the Colombian Navy discovered 73 kilograms of cocaine submerged underwater and attached by rope to a docked Panamanian sailboat named "Solar Storm." Divers recovered eight packages filled with cocaine and dead weights to keep the cargo from floating.

"This has revealed a new way of transporting narcotics by using the towing technique," the Navy press release reads. "In this way, if the boat is intercepted by authorities, the package can be cut loose."

SEE ALSO:  Colombia News and Profiles

The seizure was made on Barú island near the Caribbean coastal city of Cartagena. The boat captain, of Lithuanian nationality, was arrested.

Although Colombian authorities described this as a "new" method of transporting drugs, reports of trafficking by underwater towing have been circulating for several years.

InSight Crime Analysis

Colombian traffickers are using a range of advanced methods to slip tons of drugs past security controls along maritime routes, although InSight Crime's research suggests that they have also held on to more traditional methods that do not sustain such heavy losses when intercepted.

The recent seizure in Cartagena is a less refined version of the near fail-safe "torpedo" technique. At an anti-narcotics police conference attended by InSight Crime, Navy Capt. George Rincón explained that this method involves filling a torpedo-shaped container -- equipped with a buoy and GPS signal -- with up to 7 metric tons of cocaine, and attaching it to the bottom of a boat using a cable. The vessel then departs with a number of other boats. If the one carrying the drugs is intercepted, it releases the underwater container, which is then recovered by another boat. This makes it extremely hard for authorities to catch traffickers red-handed. (See InSight Crime's graphic below)


According to a 2014 Univision documentary, the "narco torpedo" method was developed in 2000 using a similar radio-transmitter and buoy set-up. Other variations include the soldering of drug-laden torpedoes to the bottom of freight ships, which night divers then collect once the vessel docks into port.

SEE ALSO:  Coverage of Infographics

Another low-risk, high-capacity option is the use of semi-submersibles, or "narco submarines," which have been around since at least the 1990s. According to naval authorities, narco submarines departing from Colombia's Pacific coast embark on a roundabout route that first takes them south, below and around Ecuador's Galapagos islands, before heading north towards Central America and the United States. This presumably allows them to avoid detection technology in Colombian waters.

According to official statistics, however, the most commonly intercepted marine drug vessels are "go-fast" boats -- an option that has been popular with South American drug traffickers for decades.

Speed boats have likely remained a transport method of choice because, although they can carry far less drugs, they are a cheaper option than submarines or torpedoes and require much less expertise when setting up shipments.

That said, Colombia's seizure statistics probably do not directly reflect how most drugs are moved. In fact, according to anti-narcotics police consulted by InSight Crime in the northern port city of Santa Marta, hiding drugs on container ships remains the most widely used method by Colombian traffickers -- at least along the Caribbean coast. The millions of freight containers departing from Colombian ports each year allow for huge amounts of drugs to be smuggled through security controls unnoticed.

At the same time, the fact that relatively few submarines are seized says a lot about the efficiency of this method in terms of evading interdiction. And given the steep initial investment but huge turnover of using torpedoes and submarines, these are likely to be among the favored methods for more sophisticated criminal organizations.

Colombian authorities have also told InSight Crime that they have detected other maritime trafficking techniques like "sea drones," remote-controlled underwater torpedoes that are controlled by operatives on a nearby boat. By physically separating themselves from the drugs, traffickers can easily defy checks by security forces.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.


What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.


Related Content


The infiltration of an encrypted phone messaging service by Belgian authorities led to a record cocaine haul, showing both how…

COLOMBIA / 18 JUN 2021

Colombia's hippos are a well-documented problem. Growing astonishingly fast in number, potentially devastating to the local ecosystem and perhaps lethal…


A criminal group in Colombia is turning dirty money into adulterated gold, in the latest addition to a long list…

About InSight Crime


Venezuela Coverage Continues to be Highlighted

3 MAR 2023

This week, InSight Crime co-director Jeremy McDermott was the featured guest on the Americas Quarterly podcast, where he provided an expert overview of the changing dynamics…


Venezuela's Organized Crime Top 10 Attracts Attention

24 FEB 2023

Last week, InSight Crime published its ranking of Venezuela’s ten organized crime groups to accompany the launch of the Venezuela Organized Crime Observatory. Read…


InSight Crime on El País Podcast

10 FEB 2023

This week, InSight Crime co-founder, Jeremy McDermott, was among experts featured in an El País podcast on the progress of Colombia’s nascent peace process.


InSight Crime Interviewed by Associated Press

3 FEB 2023

This week, InSight Crime’s Co-director Jeremy McDermott was interviewed by the Associated Press on developments in Haiti as the country continues its prolonged collapse. McDermott’s words were republished around the world,…


Escaping Barrio 18

27 JAN 2023

Last week, InSight Crime published an investigation charting the story of Desafío, a 28-year-old Barrio 18 gang member who is desperate to escape gang life. But there’s one problem: he’s…