Sunday, June 07, 2009
The Washington Post has an article today on a pretty strange development in drug trafficking from South America (Colombia) to the United States - it turns out that drug cartels have recently developed ships that resemble submarines to a certain extent but are much cheaper to make. They make their way partially submerged, moving quickly at night and remain still during the day. Apparently these submersibles now account for a third of the cocaine smuggled into the US, and 70 or more of them are expected to be launched this year with up to 380 tons of cocaine smuggled into the country as a result.
Some more stats on the ships: they are up to 20 metres in length, reduce their infrared signal with water-cooled mufflers, and are painted blue-gray for camouflage. To confuse radar signals they also have a conning tower on the deck, and they have a range of up to 5,000 km. Cost to manufacture one is a mere $1 million, and they have a crew of four. The crew only uses a bucket in place of a toilet and have nowhere but the floor to sleep.
So that's what the ships are like. Now why might they be a blessing in disguise? Well, because these ships that authorities are now dealing with are carrying a relatively benign cargo of simple cocaine - definitely harmful considering who ends up benefiting from the trade, but at least this has given the country a heads up on these ships and how to combat them before they were employed for much more sinister tasks - carrying explosives and the like into the country. The third page of the article mentions that a law was passed last year (the Drug Trafficking Vessel Interdiction Act of 2008) making it illegal for a ship without a country identification to hang out in international waters in order to remain undetected. So perhaps drug cartels have inadvertently done the U.S. a favour by in effect giving them a heads up on this cheap and effective new type of vessel before it could be used by terrorist groups more interested in taking life and waging war on the US/the West than simply making tons of cash.