HomeNewsTides Are Turning: First Europe-Built ‘Narco-Sub’ Seized in Spain
NEWS

Tides Are Turning: First Europe-Built 'Narco-Sub' Seized in Spain

COCAINE / 26 MAR 2021 BY KATIE JONES EN

Authorities in Europe -- already overwhelmed by a flood of cocaine arriving in cargo ships -- now must face another smuggling method that has bedeviled law enforcement in the Americas: the "narco-submarine."

On March 12, Spain's National Police announced the seizure of a 9-meter semi-submersible vessel designed to transport up to two tons of drugs. The submarine was still in the process of being assembled when it was discovered in a warehouse in the country's coastal province of Málaga.

It was the first known narco-submarine to have been constructed in Spain, according to police. Europol officials later confirmed that it was also the first seized sub have been built anywhere in Europe, saying that vessels intercepted in the past had been manufactured in Latin America.

SEE ALSO: Legend of Colombia’s Narco-Subs Reaching Europe Becomes Reality

The seizure came as part of an anti-drug operation carried out by Europol, with help from authorities in Spain, the Netherlands, Colombia, Portugal, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The trafficking group -- which operated out of Spain's northeastern Catalonia region and was composed of Spanish, Colombian and Dominican nationals -- moved cocaine, hashish and marijuana across Europe. Between April 2020 and February 2021, a string of operations helped break up the network, resulting in 52 arrests and the seizure of over three tons of cocaine.

InSight Crime Analysis

The discovery of the first narco-submarine manufactured in Spain indicates that knowledge needed for building the vessels is possibly being exported.

Drug submarines have traditionally sailed up the Pacific from Colombia to the United States. The vessels first appeared in the late 1990s but really took off about a decade later, with improved designs and construction. Difficult to detect and able to carry large cocaine loads, the submarines continue to be a favored trafficking method.

During the first eight months of last year, 27 semi-submersible vessels were seized, Colombian Admiral Hernando Mattos reported. Fourteen were detected in Colombian waters, and another 13 in international waters.

SEE ALSO: Hide and Seek: How Drug Traffickers Get Creative at Sea

Traffickers based in Europe, meanwhile, have principally relied on using shipping containers and human smugglers, known as drug mules, to distribute cocaine across the continent.

In 2019, however, the first submarine to cross the Atlantic was intercepted off the coast of Spain. And now the first narco-sub building site has been found in that country.

While the vessel was likely to be used to move drugs around Europe, rather than to make a long-haul trip, it is possible that South American traffickers have been sharing their technical expertise with counterparts in Europe.

At an online seminar earlier this month, InSight Crime Co-director Jeremy McDermott said that the technology and manufacturing know-how needed to construct drug submarines are being exported by criminal groups.

As drug seizures targeting shipping containers have risen, narco-submarines could become more attractive to traffickers, despite their high construction costs. If that is the case, European authorities should prepare for anti-submarine operations such as those seen in the United States, where dramatic videos of guardsmen jumping on speeding vessels are not uncommon.

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.

DONATE

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.

DONATE

Related Content

COLOMBIA / 27 JUL 2020

The relocation of entire communities of former FARC fighters and their families is becoming commonplace in Colombia, highlighting the government’s…

COLOMBIA / 14 SEP 2016

Colombia's ELN rebel group is reportedly moving in on territory abandoned by the FARC guerrillas as part of their peace…

AUC / 18 JUL 2016

A recent ruling by Colombia’s Justice and Peace Court that mentioned Postobón called for employees of the iconic soft drink…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Combating Environmental Crime in Colombia

15 JUN 2021

InSight Crime presented findings from an investigation into the main criminal activities fueling environmental destruction in Colombia.

THE ORGANIZATION

Collaborating on Citizen Security Initiatives

8 JUN 2021

Co-director Steven Dudley worked with Chemonics, a DC-based development firm, to analyze the organization’s citizen security programs in Mexico.

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Deepens Its Connections with Universities

31 MAY 2021

A partnership with the University for Peace will complement InSight Crime’s research methodology and expertise on Costa Rica.

THE ORGANIZATION

With Support from USAID, InSight Crime Will Investigate Organized Crime in Haiti

31 MAY 2021

The project will seek to map out Haiti's principal criminal economies, profile the specific groups and actors, and detail their links to elements of the state.

THE ORGANIZATION

We Have Updated Our Website

4 FEB 2021

Welcome to our new home page. We have revamped the site to create a better display and reader experience.