Like something out of a Tom Clancy novel, the U.S. Coast Guard is patrolling the waters of the Pacific for the latest vessel of choice for narcotics smugglers -- self-propelled submarines called “drug subs.”
Built in the jungles of Colombia for about $1 million, the typical drug sub is up to 100 feet long, carries up to five crew members, up to 10 tons of cargo and are designed to sink if they’re detected by authorities, officials said.
They are usually painted dark gray, can travel 2,500 miles without refueling and skim the surface of the water at about 13 knots, the Coast Guard said. Some of the more sophisticated ones can move beneath the surface.
“It’s not recreational people hanging out in their mini subs,” said Adam Eggers, a U.S. Coast Guard spokesman in Los Angeles.
From the Pacific to the Caribbean Sea, authorities have seen an increase in recent years involving subs -- and along the California coast of Mexican fishing boats -- making their way to U.S. shores.
The Coast Guard has made eight drug sub seizures in Eastern Pacific waters since 2008, Eggers said.
The latest in the Pacific occurred on Jan. 20, 2011 when the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Midgett interdicted a 35-foot sub carrying about 6,000 kilograms of cocaine about 335 miles off the coast of Costa Rica, Eggers said.
On Jan. 8, 2009, the crew of a sub were intercepted 150 miles northwest of the Colombian-Ecuador border. At the time, a dozen suspected drug smugglers were apprehended in the Eastern Pacific Ocean following the interception of three semi-submersible vessels within nine days.
The use of subs follows a similar trend in which crews use Mexican fishing boats called pangas to ferry drugs and people into the United States.
U.S. authorities have found the fishing boats run aground in places such as Malibu and Ventura in recent years. Authorities have arrested crew members and seized drugs aboard the boats that are powered by an outboard motor.