Drug-smuggling sub

This 30-meter long submarine, used to smuggle huge amount of cocaine, was was seized in Ecuador yesterday. Apparently, a drug trafficking outfit built it in the middle of the jungle. From CNN:
 Cnn 2010 World Americas 07 03 Ecuador.Drug.Submarine Story.Drug.Sub.Enp The vessel utilized twin screws and was diesel electric-powered, the agency said. It was about 30 meters (98 feet) long and nearly 3 meters (nine feet) high from the deck plates to the ceiling. It has a periscope and an air-conditioning system.

"Traffickers historically employed slow-moving fishing boats, sail boats, pleasure craft go-fasts," said Jay Bergman, Andean regional director for the (Drug Enforcement Agency). "The advent of the narco-submarine presents new detection challenges for maritime interdiction forces. The submarine's nautical range, payload capacity and quantum leap in stealth have raised the stakes for the counter-drug forces and the national security community alike."

"Ecuador authorities seize drug-smuggling sub"


  1. I wonder if it has the machine which goes Ping!

    Seriously, since submarine construction in Ecuador apparently stands out like a sore thumb I suggest that future smugglers build their subs in the US, and drive them to Ecuador for their maiden voyage.

  2. @Michael Smith — read the effing article, they’re built in the jungle to avoid detection. But you’re right, in South Texas you could probably build one in the back yard and no one would ask a thing! jeebus…

    1. #3,

      I did read the article and my point was the way submarine construction stands out in the local economy. Say they need ten huge 1000psi gas tanks with associated plumbing. How do you hide that purchase from the drug police?

      And as you pointed out this is much easier to do in Texas.

  3. Totally awesome. I love when criminals come up with incredibly inventive, clever, or sophisticated means of bypassing law enforcement.

    This isn’t the first seizure of a submarine that’s been reported in the press; I recall an article a few years ago. Given that law enforcement is completely unable to stop the entry of drugs into America even by conventional routes, and given the difficulty of detecting submarines if they make it into the water, it’s safe to say that there’s an entire ragtag fleet of narco-submarines shuttling cocaine into the country.

    I wonder what their safety record is like.

  4. So… we’re up against WWII submarine technology implemented by narco-makers?

    Paging Neal Stephenson.

  5. Once again the Illuminatus! trilogy proves to be prophetic. Didn’t Hagbard Celine fund the building of his gold plated sub with the proceeds of drug smuggling? Somewhere in South America a drug lord is preparing to meet Leviathan.

  6. Serious question: why don’t smugglers use rockets or mortars or RC-places to smuggle drugs over borders? (Or are there known cases of that already?)

  7. I don’t even think it’s WW2 technology. It just has to be able to sail below the troughs in the waves. I doubt it has a design envelope diving capability of more than 20 feet, with a 30′ snorkle for the diesel generator. At that depth the vessel doesn’t even have to be truly watertight; you just have to pressurize the hull enough to keep the water from seeping in. Cruising depth for something like that is probably less than 6′ underwater.

    1. #8,

      That was my suspicion too, but the article didn’t have pictures of the inside and it doesn’t give any technical details.

      If pressurised it could go to 100 feet or so but you would have to impress on the crew the dangers of smoking.

    2. Diesel electric submarines were first hunted by the US during WWII. We got good at it. Of course it’s not a finely engineered german U-Boat (as it was built by narco-makers, in a jungle), but the essential tech used is the same, and was neutered by US Navy sub hunting tech no later than 50 years ago.

      I’m not disagreeing with you, just clarifying as you missed my point while responding to it.

    1. As a full-on 30m submarine was seized in bogota (also landlocked) ~10years ago, ‘quantum leap’ may be an apt description – they managed to add air-con, presumably.

  8. my first thought was of License to Kill, the early Benicio del Toro film (also a Bond flick) where subs were part of the drug smuggling scheme.

    1. As that article points out, we’re not even dealing with U-boat technology here – these are semi-submersibles that always run on the surface. But they are perfectly designed for their intended purpose – to be cheap, easy to conceal, and disposable.

    2. What makes this new find different is that it’s a genuine submarine (at least allegedly), designed to operate fully submerged. The prior captures I’ve heard about, including the one in that amw.com feature, were all semi-submersibles, designed to ride very low in the water, but not quite underneath. Quoting the article:

      It resembles a submarine but doesn’t sink completely underwater, with the vessel rising just a foot above the water line. That makes it a stealthy ride for smugglers, and very difficult to spot in choppy seas.

  9. hm, so far noone mentioned that the pictured sub can hardly be 9 feet high – that seems hardly to conform with the sourroundings.

    even if the tree trunk to its right is of an incredibly thick variety, the scale would be off.
    Furthermore, the almost fully visible cylinder seems to indicate that there is not much sub under water at the moment – so even if you’re talking giant trees, that sub is not 9 feet high.

    That is just a quick observation, can someone easily prove me wrong? Random pictures without identification is misleading (see displaying of weapons from unrelated police raids under different headline), thus wrong.

    1. It does seem from the photo rather less in size than the report mentions (30m! that’s LONG) but the perspective could be misleading.

      That little pic is not really enough for proper reference. The fact remains, dudes built a sub in the jungle, and if it worked, then it shows the high-end drug trade is still working in dedicated style.

  10. On one hand, this is a bad thing (drugs are bad, m’kay?), but making your own submarine in the jungle is pretty damn cool. There’s probably a (black)market for minisubs and it would be less illegal to make the subs for other dealers or smugglers in general. Oh, and Bond villains. They always need subs.

  11. I only wonder.

    One day, somebody will finance construction of a weapon of mass destruction with drug money. This somebody will also use the knowhow and technology used for drug smuggling to place such a weapon inside a city, or in a port.

    It will only be possible because there are smugglers who move loads illegally on an industrial scale, who have loads of money.

    1. “One day, somebody will finance construction of a weapon of mass destruction with drug money. This somebody will also use the knowhow and technology used for drug smuggling to place such a weapon inside a city, or in a port.”
      … and this somebody would not just put it inside a freight container, chartered sailing yacht, or even chartered plane for what reason? Supervillain chops? Unlike drugs, a WMD does not need to be distributed – just trolley it into customs and say: ‘yah, got something to declare…’

  12. Yeah I remember reading about one a few years ago in Mexico. Did a Google archive search and the results shows articles about drug submarines as far back as 1988…but that was a pay-per-view artilcle so I couldn’t see what it was about, but it seemed to be about remote control subs being used to hide contraband aboard boats when they’re being searched. There are a couple articles about drug subs being used between Columbia and Mexico.

  13. One day, somebody will finance construction of a weapon of mass destruction with drug money. This somebody will also use the knowhow and technology used for drug smuggling to place such a weapon inside a city, or in a port.

    Clearly not possible, since as we all know, drug abuse is a victimless crime.

  14. Drug smugglers have turned to be good techies now they are using high tech means to smuggle drugs
    thats really a shame for cops , while the same makes them proud of themselves

    best PTC

  15. The only effective way to end smuggling is to end contraband. Not even summary execution works. So long as mere possession or transport of a substance is outlawed, and people actually want the outlawed thing, there will be smuggling- nature abhors a vacuum.

    Now, if we want the smugglers to develop the tech to outwit border guards, then it makes great sense to continue the War on Drugs. Once someone uses that tech to harm national security, the security goons get even more tax money. Hence the War on Drugs helps the terrorists, and the terrorists help the Military Industrial Complex. Oh, and the smugglers get rich too of course, they make out better than the tax bandits.

    Personally I’d use unmanned solar kayaks, more scalable. But if someone wants to play Hagbard Cilene… yeah I second the call for an instructable.

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