Hunting narco-subs remains a challenge, officials say


Intercepting drug subs, like this one captured by a Coast Guard cutter in July, remains a concern for military officials. // Coast Guard

Drug cartels rely on trucks, small planes, ships and speed boats to smuggle narcotics into the United States. And in recent years, they’re building increasingly sophisticated submarines, some of which can travel submerged.  These drug-running subs are proving to be an issue for the Navy and the Coast Guard, a top official acknowledged Tuesday.

“It’s a very expensive proposition to try and find them, follow them, detect them as they work through the maritime environment,” Gen. Douglas Fraser, the Air Force general who heads U.S. Southern Command, said at a Senate hearing when asked about the subject.

In July, Coast Guard cutter Seneca intercepted a semi-submersible smuggling drugs off of Honduras, and recovered 7.5 tons — roughly valued at $180 million — from the fiberglass vessel, which sank. It was the first time a drug-running sub was spotted in the Caribbean and evidence that the cartels were expanding their reach, Fraser said.

“The use of those vessels continues to expand with the transnational criminal organizations,” Fraser said, adding: “Our focus is really on where they’re built and where they arrive, to address the problem with trying to detect and then intercept them.”

These vessels are built and moored in remote locales. For instance, Colombian authorities seized a fully submersible vessel in February 2011 on a jungle river, hundreds of miles from the country’s coast. It was 99 feet long and capable of hauling 8 tons while fully submerged.


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