What it's like to be a cocaine submarine captain

A former Columbian narco-sub pilot anonymously recounts his life captaining a homebrewed semi-submersible filled with millions of dollars' worth of cocaine, at gunpoint all the while:

At around 8 p.m., the tide was high and the night sufficiently dark as the ocean water tugged at the submersible. A speedboat pulled the vessel out to sea, where the crew started the engines. They accelerated to 12 knots and set off on a 270-degree course heading west, toward the open ocean. The guard provided by the drug mafia for each transport, armed with a revolver and an assault rifle, stood at the door to the engine room. It was incredibly hot in the submersible, where the engines remove oxygen from the air and enrich it with carbon monoxide, despite ventilation pipes. "You constantly feel like you're suffocating," says Alonso. "Every four hours, we reduced the speed from 12 to six knots. Then we opened the hatch in the front for exactly one minute, let some fresh air in and accelerated again."

The four-man team worked in shifts, while Alonso kept monitoring the route. Once they were in the open ocean, the man with the assault rifle gave him a piece of paper showing the target position. Their instructions were to arrive there on a specific day and at a specific time.

Each of the men tried to sleep after his shift, but the stench and the noise on board made this impossible. They had to drink copious amounts of water to make up for the buckets of sweat constantly running off their bodies. Their main source of nourishment was condensed milk, the Peruvian "Leche Gloria" brand. The stench from fecal matter, which couldn't be disposed of during the trip, soon became almost unbearable.

Former Drug Smuggler Tells His Story (via Beyond the Beyond)

(Photo: Luca Zanetti/DER SPIEGEL)


  1. all to provide a precious commodity for politicians, businessmen, their wives, their hookers and their hooker’s pimps, musicians, fans and every other form a cokehead takes. it so sought after no one on this side of the market cares about the pain and suffering those involved in the production and distribution end endure. blissfully unaware during their 15 minute high.

    1. It only has a victim whilst it remains an illegal activity.

      Ironically it’s governments that create the dirty side to drug use; not the users.

  2. @Elijah, ackpht: I hope you don’t have any ‘Made in China’ tags on your clothing, shoes, or any other items likely to have been made under hellish labor conditions.

    Pushing the production of psychoactives out of the ambit of labor standards enforcement via prohibition is the efficient cause here, not US consumers.

    1. “Pushing the production of psychoactives out of the ambit of labor standards enforcement via prohibition is the efficient cause here, not US consumers.”

      I agree, but I think the real problem is not so much that it’s unregulated as it is illegal. Yeah, it’s miserable and dangerous and supports and is controlled by violent thugs… because we’re at “war” with it.

    2. “I hope you don’t have any ‘Made in China’ tags on your clothing, shoes, or any other items likely to have been made under hellish labor conditions.”

      About a year ago, a dead Mexican marine’s family was killed at his funeral, because he died in the state’s efforts to take down a cartel. A little over a week ago, the mother of an informant in Colombia was murdered by narcotraffickers. In 2008, there were over 4000 narcotrafficking-related deaths in Mexico alone. Of course, none of this would have happened were it not for the cokeheads–but really, people who buy Chinese goods are just as bad. Fucking Chinese.

  3. Elijah: if only they knew what’s really in there.. blissfully unaware is right..

    Diego and the other workers were encouraged to spit into the tubs holding gas and coca, and even pass spit-mugs around the camp, under the premise that saliva helped the extraction process. Workers were also encouraged to ash their cigarettes into the vats, perhaps because traditional coca chewers sometimes added a dab of quicklime or the ash of burned quinoa plants to their wad of coca. (Diego said he wasn’t sure why.)

    Then there were the unauthorized additives. “Sometimes we’d piss or shit in the vats, just to be fuckers,” Diego said. “Only the rich use cocaine, and we thought it was funny.”


  4. “An estimated 5 million Colombians are believed to be directly or indirectly involved in the drug trade”.

    That’s 11% of the population gainfully employed providing a renewable comodity in high demand.

    Yes, workers are being screwed. But do you think they’d prefer to lose their work because people stopped buying their product, continue being screwed by their black market bosses, or maybe have some sort of chance at improving the situation if the whole business was legalized?

  5. And just think of how long it takes to work your way up to Drug Sub Captain. He probably started out swabbing the decks on the thing.

  6. Its easy to jump up on ones soapbox when talking about an illegal substance. Im curious about the tone of some of the comments if this was a story related to coffee production or the more ubiquitous cotton plant.

          1. true, true.

            organic ≠ fair trade.

            however, I was referring to chocolate and slavery. slavery in this industry by and large occurs in africa. these plantations are low balling their production costs of cacao in every way they can…which, of course, means using free (slave) labor.

            anyway, you can do some googling about it if you like.

            my point is: organic chocolate (which isn’t always fair trade) is not produced with child slave labor. If you know of an instance, do please inform me.

            anyway, gotta’ go. there’s a beefy rail with my name on it waiting on my GF’s sexy, flat belly.

  7. Ya know, in my 37 years I have yet to meet a cokehead i could tolerate, Using or not, they’re selfish asses to the nth degree. This article just makes it all sound so much sexier.

    all you coke users, you guys have the greatest. habit. ever.


  8. Might this serve as an instructive model for deep space travel?

    Seriously: what if we don’t get shiny capsules and hypersleep? What if we’re forced to improvise?

    Would we go to space in drug barges under a command economy?

    What kind of people — what kind of society? — could endure such pressure?

  9. Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Undersea Blow
    Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Cartel
    Pirates of the Caribbean: At Neoliberalism’s End
    (srly, this is what piracy looks like)

  10. Yes, everybody. Life is shit. We all consume stuff that is produced by people who suffer in very real ways. Hopefully, we can change those things if we’re aware and smart about it (and hell, do something about it). Does that mean we can’t criticize coke-heads for their habits which are directly supporting such levels of human misery? And I’m not talking about shit-filled subs. What about the people that actually die just so some asshole can be more of an asshole for a few minutes?

    Isn’t there some net law akin to Godwin or Poe that deals with comments that attempt to shut up criticism with haranguing rhetoric? Who are you to criticize coke-heads? You drink coffee!

    If not, there should be.

  11. As to China and illegal drug trafficking, see Opium wars.

    British silver, indeed all European silver, was thought to drift Eastward, ultimately accumulating in the coffers of Imperial China.

    China bought damned little from Europeans. What did Europe have that China wanted?

    Much consternation in Whitehall. What to do?

    Aha: opium plantations throughout the Indian colonies, and ruthless traffickers on Shanghai wharves.

    With planning and patience, and a bureaucracy such as only the Foreign Office could love, millions of Chinese were lured into addiction.

    Addictive drugs as trade balancer.

  12. Surprised at how lame all of that is. For instance, run the engine intake up to the inside of the bow, and I would expect that to do a decent job at keeping the air inside the sub tolerable, as the motor is pulling a fair bit of air through, and you are not totally inept at getting the exhaust out. Use plastic bags for the toilet, tie them off when done, and things should be ok.

    But from reading the article, it seems they have real subs now.

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