HomeNewsQuestions Surround Venezuela's Recent Seizure of Rare Drug Sub

Questions Surround Venezuela's Recent Seizure of Rare Drug Sub


Venezuelan authorities have not offered much information about the recent capture of a drug smuggling submarine close to the border with Colombia, leaving it unclear if the use of semi-submersibles is increasing in the country.

On April 29, General Domingo Hernández Lárez, the head of the Venezuelan Army's strategic operational command, wrote on Twitter that troops had captured a rigid hull-type submarine vessel.

The next day, he posted a video showing the six-meter-long watercraft discovered in the border state of Apure. He alleged the vessel was deployed by an unspecified Colombian crime group to traffic drugs along the Arauca and Orinoco Rivers from Colombia to Venezuela’s Atlantic coast.

SEE ALSO: Colombia’s ‘King’ of Drug Subs Goes Down But Vessels Proliferate

Though little other information was offered about the submarine, Hernández Lárez claimed it travelled “below the water,” suggesting the submarine was submersible. The vessel was empty when it was discovered, and its exact location was not disclosed.

However, a local resident told Infobae that the vessel was seized in front of the vast 34,000-hectare Merecure ranch in the municipality of Achaguas.

InSight Crime Analysis

Venezuela has not seen many instances of drugs being moved via submarine, with the capture of such a vessel being a rare occurrence. In contrast, Colombia seized 50 such submarines between January 2019 and August 2020.

However, several other elements connected to the Venezuelan submarine stand out.

First, the vessel was found deep inland. Narco-submarines are typically manufactured near coasts from where they are launched. This has been true even in the few previous cases of Venezuelan narco-subs, such as the 2009 seizure of the country’s first narco-sub shipyard in the Atlantic state of Delta Amacuro and the 2013 reports that Venezuelan-built drug submersibles were seen off Puerto Rico.

A solitary exception to this pattern was the 2014 discovery in Guyana of a relatively large fiberglass semi-submersible in a tributary of the Waini River near Venezuela. However, Guyanese authorities believed that vessel to have been sailing upriver for a trans-Atlantic voyage, whereas the submarine caught in Apure is unlikely to have had such range, according to an analysis by narco-submarine expert, H. I. Sutton.

Second, there have been questions over its size and the depths it could reach underwater. At six meters, the Apure submarine is on the smaller end of the narco-sub range, with a modest engine capacity and limited cargo space for storing drugs relative to customary models, according to Sutton.

SEE ALSO: Semi-Submersibles - Made in Venezuela

Yet it could apparently fully disappear below the waterline, unlike the majority of narco-submarines, which are semi-submersible vessels with exhausts and ventilation pipes always above water level.

These two traits appear contradictory. The principal attraction of fully submersible vessels is their ability to transport large quantities of cocaine for long distances while evading radar. But the Apure vessel’s size means it could likely only smuggle small quantities of drugs across short distances.

One explanation from Sutton suggested the submarine was not headed to the Atlantic coast, as authorities alleged, but was instead used to pass drugs from Colombia to Venezuela. This would make sense, given that ongoing violence on Apure’s border with Colombia reportedly continues to disrupt traditional land trafficking routes.

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


Two days on from the nighttime assassination of Haiti President Jovenel Moïse in Port-au-Prince, competing theories have failed to provide…

BRAZIL / 27 MAY 2022

Cocaine seizures have jumped at the Guarulhos International Airport near São Paulo, Brazil, showing that neither COVID-19 nor international law…

CHONEROS / 14 APR 2023

The Tiguerones gang is thought to be behind the massacre in Esmeraldas, as they battle for control of international drug…

About InSight Crime


InSight Crime's Chemical Precursor Report continues to be a reference in the region

19 MAY 2023

For the second week in a row, our investigation into the flow of precursor chemicals for the manufacture of synthetic drugs in Mexico has been cited by multiple regional media…


InSight Crime’s Chemical Precursor Report Widely Cited


We are proud to see that our recently published investigation into the supply chain of chemical precursors feeding Mexico’s synthetic drug production has been warmly received.


InSight Crime’s Paraguay Election Coverage Draws Attention 

5 MAY 2023

InSight Crime looked at the various anti-organized crime policies proposed by the candidates in Paraguay’s presidential election, which was won on April 30 by Santiago Peña. Our pre-election coverage was cited…


InSight Crime Cited in OAS, CARICOM Reports

28 APR 2023

This week, InSight Crime’s work was cited nine times in a new report by the Organization of American States (OAS) titled “The Impact of Organized Crime on Women,…


InSight Crime Staff Cited as Experts by International Media

21 APR 2023

This week, InSight Crime deputy editor, Juan Diego Posada, was interviewed by the Associated Press about connections between the ex-FARC mafia and Brazilian criminal groups, and…