Police in Colombia have dismantled a group dedicated to building semi-submersibles for the Urabeños criminal organization, seeking to undermine what has become a favored method of moving large cocaine consignments, thanks to its ability to evade detection.
On July 31, authorities captured four members of the group, including Alexander Giraldo Santa, alias "En Ingeniero," who police identified as one of the major builders of semi-submersibles for cocaine trafficking, reported El Espectador.
According to the National Police press release, the group built fiberglass semi-submersible vessels capable of carrying four crew members and more than 7 tons of cocaine.
Police investigations revealed that the organization built the semi-submersibles in the department of Antioquia, where they were loaded with drugs and dispatched from the Gulf of Uraba. The vessels traveled to transshipment points in the Caribbean, from where the drugs were loaded onto "go fast" speedboats and sent to North America or Europe.
During the course of the investigation, Colombian police reported the departure of three semi-submersibles over the last two years, which were captured by the US Coast Guard and resulted in the seizure of 22 tons of cocaine.
The United States has issued a warrant for the arrest of the four captured members of the group, who could be extradited over the next few days.
InSight Crime Analysis
The use of semi-submersibles to transport drugs from Colombia dates back to the early 1990s, when drug traffickers began to build rudimentary vessels in response to increased maritime patrols and radar tracking aimed at "go fast" speedboats.
Semi-submersibles -- which sit just below the waterline, but have exhaust pipes above sea level -- are extremely difficult for law enforcement to detect. Intelligence sources have told InSight Crime that due to the great difficulty finding semi-submersibles once they are at sea, intelligence agencies typically concentrate their efforts on identifying the builders.
Drug trafficking organizations have also started building fully-submersible submarines, the first of which was discovered in Ecuador in 2010. These can only be detected using sonar radar, which usually only warships are equipped with.
SEE ALSO: Urabeños Profile
The fact that the semi-submersibles built by "El Ingeniero" departed from the Gulf of Uraba is unsurprising as this area is a popular departure point for drug shipments due to its strategic location on the Caribbean Coast near Panama. The area is also a stronghold for the Urabeños, who made their foray into the criminal underworld taxing contraband shipments leaving from the gulf. The organization has since become the most powerful of Colombia's criminal syndicates and a major player in the transnational drug trade.