The discovery of a second "narco-submarine" on European shores suggests that others may be on the way.
Spanish authorities discovered a semi-submersible vessel off the northwestern coast of Galicia on March 13. The ship was found scuttled, likely on purpose after the traffickers had finished unloading their cargo, according to local media reports citing police officials. Authorities also suggested that it may have been sitting there for weeks.
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Nicknamed the Poseidon, the vessel could have carried up to five tons of cocaine, "which may already be on the market," one police narcotics specialist told the ABC newspaper.
"This was a failure by everyone; the only thing that appeared was a floating plastic shell," said the police specialist.
The Poseidon is the second submarine found off the Spanish coast. The first, which was discovered in 2019, had the capacity to carry three tons of cocaine.
"It is of the same lineage of designs as the one found in 2019, with the same designer. Although we don't know their name, that designer can be connected with several other vessels found in Latin America," H.I. Sutton, an independent narco-submarine expert who recently published an analysis of both vessels, told InSight Crime.
InSight Crime Analysis
While European authorities have experience detecting drugs transported by cargo freighters, private vessels, and human couriers, they remain vulnerable to narco-submarines.
Laying low on the water, these low-profile vessels can avoid authorities, whose radar often fails to detect them. As shown by Poseidon, they can be found far too late, if at all.
"Even the radar can confuse something coming at the surface of the water. It can even confuse it with a wave," said Javier Romero, a journalist for a local newspaper, La Voz de Galicia, who has covered narco-submarine voyages.
A Spanish police spokesperson also told InSight Crime that thermal cameras and night vision binoculars are used by authorities to detect the submarines but admitted their effectiveness is limited.
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A recent global cocaine report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) stated that seizures by authorities around the world have outpaced cocaine production since 2021. This may mean that drug traffickers may turn to harder-to-detect options, such as submarines.
For Sutton, the Galicia submarine is a sign of things to come.
"There is nothing technically from stopping these vessels being used more frequently to smuggle drugs to Europe," he told InSight Crime.
Spain may also have to contend with similar technologies being developed at home. A drug trafficking group in the southern city of Cádiz was caught last year building underwater drones that could carry up to 200 kilograms of drugs.