a means used in Europe to smuggle drugs

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The first “submarine narco” built in Europe was discovered by Europol and the Spanish police in Malaga (Spain) on March 15, 2021. (HANDOUT / EUROPOL / AFP)

Transporting cocaine in submarines is what Colombian traffickers do, but the police have never seized a submarine made in Europe.
The ship was discovered in a warehouse in Malaga, southern Spain: nine meters long, three wide, loading capacity: two tons, we are in the low average of this kind of ship, some can be a lot bigger. Construction cost: around one million euros, with material imported from Belgium and the Netherlands. The submarine was barely finished and had not yet been launched.

The network that was dismantled by the police on this occasion was run by Spanish, Colombian and Dominican nationals. He was based in Barcelona. The operation coordinated by Europol was very large, it mobilized the police forces of seven different countries: Spain, the Netherlands, Portugal, United Kingdom, United States and Colombia. In Spain the police have also discovered a laboratory capable of producing 750 kilos of drugs per month.

For transporting large quantities of narcotics, the submarine is today the best way to escape the controls of roads and airports. We started talking about this technique at the very end of the 90s, when the United States and Colombia decided to strengthen their presence in the Pacific against the maritime go-fast which had until then been used to reach Mexico and the American market. The first submarine was intercepted in 2006 off Costa Rica. Today it is a common process, which remains profitable despite its cost. In 2019 alone, the Colombian navy seized about thirty of them.

We say submarine but they are not rather semi-submersibles that do not go to great depths and stay close to the surface. Rather rustic, they are made of fiberglass, their structure is very flat: there is hardly anything protruding. Their washed-out blue, gray or pastel green color and low thermal radiation make them very difficult to spot, whether by patrols or radar.

In general, they are manufactured in clandestine shipyards in the mangroves of Colombia or Surinam. They are loaded with two, five or even eight tonnes of narcotics. We bring the crew, usually two to four people. Either they go back in two or three days to Central America and the United States, or they embark on the crossing of the Atlantic towards one of the first world markets for cocaine, Europe, and in this case , they are refueled several times during the trip with fuel and food, by boat.

In case of control, the crew members sink the boat by opening valves and they simply jump into the water. Some have made transatlantic crossings twice a year, but most are single-use vessels: scuttled right after delivery of their cargo, mostly transferred to a ship near the coast.

The discovery of this European submarine shows that the market is evolving, that demand in Europe is increasingly strong. In recent months, the narcotics have observed that these submarines were carrying not only cocaine but also marijuana. Its decriminalization in a number of countries has opened up a new market.

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