Colombian cocaine smugglers hide beneath the waves

March 11, 2016 7:12 am
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Though it looks like a scaled-up bathtub toy, the grey vessel was built for stealth and marks a milestone in the cat-and-mouse game played by powerful drug cartels and an international force tasked with stopping them/AFP
Though it looks like a scaled-up bathtub toy, the grey vessel was built for stealth and marks a milestone in the cat-and-mouse game played by powerful drug cartels and an international force tasked with stopping them/AFP
KEY WEST, United States, Mar 11 – For the US Coast Guard at least, Bigfoot is real – and is proudly on display here in Key West, on the southernmost tip of the United States.

The hulking monster in question, a sasquatch of the sea, is a 50-foot-long (15-meter) semi-submersible boat built by drug smugglers in the mangroves of Colombia to sneak tons of cocaine toward the United States.

Overview
  • Though it looks like a scaled-up bathtub toy, the grey vessel was built for stealth and marks a milestone in the cat-and-mouse game played by powerful drug cartels and an international force tasked with stopping them.
  • Reports of "narco-subs" first surfaced in the mid 1990s but it wasn't until 2005 that US authorities started getting specific intel on one of the craft, when the photographs emerged of a strange-looking vessel bobbing low on the water.

Though it looks like a scaled-up bathtub toy, the grey vessel was built for stealth and marks a milestone in the cat-and-mouse game played by powerful drug cartels and an international force tasked with stopping them.

“At first, there were just grainy photos. No one believed it was real,” a US intelligence analyst, who asked that his name not be used, told AFP this week during a tour of the boat, which is now on a military installation.

Reports of “narco-subs” first surfaced in the mid 1990s but it wasn’t until 2005 that US authorities started getting specific intel on one of the craft, when the photographs emerged of a strange-looking vessel bobbing low on the water.

Just like purported pictures of wildmen of the woods, those first images were hard to make out, so when US authorities intercepted the boat off the coast of Costa Rica in November 2006, it quickly won its Bigfoot nickname.

Though Bigfoot is not a true submarine, most of its bulk is hidden below the water, making it harder to spot visually and with radar. Its four-man crew had packed 4.2 tons of the drug into the boat’s bulbous bow.

Smugglers still mainly use highly maneuverable, open-hulled speed boats called “go fasts” to zip their cargo across the eastern Pacific or Caribbean to Central America or Mexico, but in the decade since Bigfoot’s seizure they have refined their marine know-how and are now successfully building true submarines.

One such vessel, captured in Ecuador before it could conduct any missions, was 87 feet long (26.5 meters) and ran on a diesel engine, but could go completely underwater for short spells, when it would be powered by batteries, the analyst said.

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