A three-masted training ship interdicted a drug-laden high-speed smuggling vessel off the coast of Colombia on Friday, the Ecuadorian Navy announced.
Sailing ship BAE Guayas caught the low-profile vessel within the 200-nautical miles of the Colombian exclusive economic zone, the service announced.
“The Guayas School Ship, carrying out its International Instruction Cruise, was able to interdict this vessel for its subsequent capture; These artisan-made LPV-type vessels are regularly used by transnational narco-criminal organizations for the transport of substances subject to control, due to their carrying capacity,” reads a translation of a statement from the Ecuadorian Navy.
The four-person crew – three Ecuadorians and a Colombian – were arrested. The vessel has been seized and is being taken back to Ecuador, according to the statement.
“The apprehended citizens and the LPV are currently being transferred to shore to be handed over to the pertinent authorities, in order to carry out the corresponding legal procedures,” reads a translation of the statement.
So-called “narco submarines” are a common way for drug trafficking organizations to smuggle drugs from Colombia up to Central America. Most of it is then smuggled into North America. Like most narco submarines, this one was what is more correctly termed a low-profile vessel. Based on the imagery, it looks like a craft-made power boat, but runs extremely low in the water, making it hard to detect.
The cargo, likely cocaine of between 1.5 and 6 tons based on the imagery released, is carried in the forward hull, surrounded by fuel tanks. The crew occupy the small cockpit at the stern, accessing the drugs via a tunnel. The three outboard motors provide reliable propulsion with built-in redundancy. These motors are ubiquitous in fishing fleets in the region and therefore are hard to trace.
Other types of narco-submarines feature yacht-like hulls with inboard diesel engines. A few – likely the minority, but also some of the most successful – are fully submersible. The diversity of designs is massive, but most look a lot like the one the Ecuadorian Navy interdicted.
The Ecuadorian Navy, or Armada del Ecuador, partners with U.S. Southern Command and 13 other countries’ forces to perform counter-narcotics missions in Latin America. Campaign Martillo (Hammer) is a multi-national detection, monitoring and interdiction operation. It is conducted by the U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard and other U.S. federal law enforcement assets that work with military and law enforcement units from various countries. A key component is the interdiction of drugs smuggling vessels, particularly narco submarines.