By Dialogo June 11, 2009 BOGOTA, June 9, 2009 (AFP) – Colombian drug traffickers seem to have found an effective means of transporting drugs to U.S. and Central American destinations: homemade submarines, as evidenced by the seizure of a total of 46 such devices since 1993, 13 of which were captured in 2009 alone. “About two years ago this method of drug transportation was revived because, in general terms, these ships are harder to detect once under way, and they can transport huge cargos,” Admiral Hernando Wills, of the Coast Guards of the Navy (War Navy), told AFP. According to the Navy, the seizure of semi-submersible ships, seven of which were captured by American authorities and another one by the Mexican Navy, may have impeded the distribution of more than 414 tons of drugs, which would sell for up to $10.35 billion in the American black market. The construction of each semi submersible ship, mostly made of Fiberglas, can cost $1,500 to 2,000 million pesos ($725,000 to 969,000 USD), and their design has evolved over time, especially the hull. “They are basic vehicles built of Fiberglas – which give it very good hydrodynamic features – and the hull shape has been improved to allow them to pass smoothly through the water,” the officer explained. He added that the builders of these vehicles have a good knowledge of engineering, because the engines “are very well located, as is the propeller, which is well connected to the generator.” Besides, he said that “the compartments for storing illicit materials are, most of the time, separated from the engines and the command centre.” Nevertheless, according to Wills, their crews, composed of professional sailors, have to work in appalling conditions during the eight or ten days that the journey to their final destination can take. The officer remarked that each semi-submarine has a system of “bottom valves,” which can be opened by the crew to sink the semi-submersible and its cargo, when they realize that they might be captured; this has already happened on several occasions. The first “semi-submersibles,” so named because they travelled barely below the water surface, transported only two tons of cocaine and the same number of crew members. However, some of the most recently seized semi-submarines could reach any country in Central America from the Colombian Pacific coast, transporting five crew members and up to 15 tons of drugs. Of the 37 semi-submersibles seized by the Navy, 30 were captured in the Pacific and 7 off the Atlantic coast. Curiously, one of the most sophisticated vehicles – Wills said that it was very similar to a real submarine – was found by the Colombian police in September 2000, in the town of Facatativá, only 40 km away from Bogotá, in the central part of the country. It is the only semi-submarine whose characteristics evidenced that its construction featured foreign technology, specifically Russian, while the naval steel sheets of the hull came from Europe.
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