In November, the Attorney General’s Office, the Colombian Navy and the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) arrested 11 alleged members of an organization specialized in the manufacturing of submarines and adapting other vessels for the purpose of cocaine trafficking.
The network operated in the departments of Cauca, Valle del Cauca, Nariño and Chocó, where the arrested members obtained building materials, built the vessels, and coordinated logistics with different groups to move the drugs abroad, mostly to Mexico.
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According to a press release by the Colombian Navy, the network maintained an agreement with the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional -- ELN), under which the criminal group provided security in rural areas along the Cucurrupí river in northern Colombia, where the network built submarines.
However, a statement by Colombia's army also indicated that the submarine builders had achieved enough fame that they had also been contacted by criminal groups in Mexico and Guatemala to build vessels for them.
InSight Crime Analysis
With cocaine production and export having boomed in recent years, as well as during the pandemic, it makes sense for criminal groups to outsource specific parts of the drug trafficking chain, such as the construction of submarines.
This method reduces the expenses assumed by drug trafficking groups, preventing them from having to handle all the logistics involved with shipping cocaine internationally.
Admiral Hernando Mattos, commander of the Navy's anti-narcotics Poseidon Task Force, told the newspaper El Tiempo that “it is not uncommon to find that drugs from two or three networks are transported in one ... submarine so that they can jointly cover the shipping and costs of these vessels, which can reach up to $1 million."
This is not the first such network to emerge. In August 2018, Colombian police dismantled a ring dedicated to manufacturing semi-submersibles for trafficking cocaine from Colombia’s Pacific Coast to Central America and the United States. This ring had allegedly even had contacts with Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel.
The use of submarines is now a mainstay for Colombian organized crime groups. In 2019, 23 such vessels were confiscated. And between January and August 2020, 27 were seized between the Colombian coast and international waters.
Many get through unnoticed. A 2018 report by Univision indicated that the US Coast Guard only seizes a quarter of drugs transported by submarines as these cannot be detected by radar. According to the report, the vessels are covered by a layer of lead and exhaust fumes are cooled down before being released which helps to avoid detection by infrared sensors on patrolling ships.