Drug cartel's submarine fleet: How do drug cartels smuggle cocaine across the sea?

These vessels are being used for smuggling millions of dollars worth of cocaine.
Interesting Engineering

The drug trade has always been a lucrative business, but with increased global efforts to crack down on smuggling operations, drug lords have had to innovate to stay ahead of law enforcement. One of the most ingenious methods they have developed is the narco-submarine or narco-sub.

These custom-made vessels are designed and built by boat engineers and designers, often recruited from countries like Russia, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, who oversee mass-production in remote jungle factories in Colombia. Despite costing up to two million dollars to build, some of these subs are intended for one-time use and are abandoned at sea after delivering their precious cargo.

The narco-subs are self-propelled, semi-submersible or fully-submersible vessels that can travel undetected beneath the waves, making them nearly invisible to radar and difficult to detect by other means. They are typically constructed out of fiberglass and other materials that are resistant to saltwater corrosion and designed to maximize hydrodynamics and cocaine capacity.

The crews of these vessels are highly trained and equipped with sophisticated navigation systems and communication devices to avoid detection. In some cases, they are even provided with onboard weapons to defend against interdiction by rival drug traffickers or law enforcement.

While narco-submarines have been around since the 1990s, their use has exploded in recent years. In 2021 alone, authorities seized 31 narco-submarines, up from 23 in 2019. This increase in activity is due in part to the profitability of the drug trade, with cargoes carrying a street value of up to $400 million.

However, the dangers of operating these vessels are not to be underestimated. Narco-subs are often overloaded with drugs and crew members, and accidents can be deadly. In 2019, a narco-submarine carrying three tons of cocaine sank off the coast of Spain, killing its crew.

Despite the risks, the use of narco-submarines is likely to continue as drug traffickers look for new and innovative ways to smuggle their product. It is a cat-and-mouse game between drug lords and law enforcement, and as one side develops new tactics, the other will continue to adapt and evolve.

In the end, the narco-submarine is a testament to human ingenuity and resourcefulness, albeit in the service of a dangerous and illegal trade. As long as there is demand for illegal drugs, the narco-submarine will remain a powerful tool in the arsenal of drug traffickers around the world.