In a first for drug trafficking in Guatemala, authorities seized a semi-submersible smuggling vessel, pointing to a possible jump in the sophistication of organized crime groups in the Northern Triangle nation.
Guatemalan police located and seized the semi-submersible on September 24th. It was being constructed at a covered pier in the small coastal village of Las Lisas, located in the municipality of Chiquimulilla, reported elPeriódico de Guatemala. Laying on the Pacific coast 90 kilometers south of Guatemala City, Chiquimulilla has a population of 12,700. No one had yet been detained in relation to the seized vessel.
Photos: Guatemalan Interior Ministry
Guatemalan police spokesman Jorge Aguilar told reporters this was the first time a semi-submersible has been found being built in Guatemala. Aguilar said the boat was in an advanced stage of construction with the engine and fuel tanks installed, adding that it had the capacity to transport roughly five tons of drugs, elPeriódico reported.
Cocaine seizures have been on the rise in the Central American country, with Guatemalan anti-drug forces having confiscated just over 10 metric tons of cocaine so far in 2016. That amount broke the previous annual record of 9,959 kilos seized in 1999, according to elPeriódico.
Insight Crime Analysis
Semi-submersibles first emerged in the 90s and 2000s, as traffickers in Colombia adapted to US and Colombian government efforts to interdict the "go-fast" speedboats preferred by drug smugglers.
Semi-Submersibles sit below the waterline but have exhausts and ventilation pipes above sea level. They can still be located by radar, or spotted by careful observers.
Initially very crudely built in Colombia, over the year's semi-submersibles increased in sophistication, often being constructed from fiberglass in order to make them harder to detect by radar. Newer semi-submersibles have been able to operate deeper below the surface, even installing systems of drainage valves, making it easier to scuttle the boat if intercepted.
SEE ALSO: Guatemala News and Profiles
In 2011, Colombia Security forces captured a fully submersible submarine in the province of Cauca, that had the capacity to carry eight tons of cocaine. It was estimated to have cost 2 million to build. Semi-submersibles have been found off the coasts of several countries in interdictions, including El Salvador and Ecuador, and have been seized on land in both Colombia and Guyana.
This vessel in Guatemala appears to be the first one built in Central America and is representative of the increasing sophistication of drug trafficking groups there. These vessels are more than new modes of transportation for illicit narcotics. They represent significant operating costs and advances in innovation. The ability to invest in such long-term and expensive projects points to more powerful organized crime on the isthmus.
Drug trafficking groups in Guatemala and Hondurans principally work as transporters for Mexican crime groups. The introduction of semi-submersibles may mean they are looking for a bigger share of the drug trafficking value chain.