SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic – Ecuadoran security forces seized a semi-submersible vessel capable of moving 600 kilograms of cocaine during a joint operation with the Colombian government, officials said on Oct. 22.
Authorities arrested three men who had escaped from a prison. Authorities didn’t say whether they recovered any narcotics during the raid. The vessel was discovered near the Pacific Coast in the province of Esmeraldas near the Colombian border as part of Ecuador’s “Operation Progress” counter-narcotics trafficking mission.
Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón said the “small submarine” was capable of moving 600 kilograms of cocaine to Central America or the United States.
In a joint press conference with Pinzón, Ecuadoran Interior Minister José Serrano said the operation came together thanks to “strong and intensive” cooperation between security forces in both countries.
“We’re grateful for the support of Colombia and the police in the detention of dangerous criminals who thought they could hide in the country after escaping prison in Ecuador,” Serrano said.
Pinzón said his country is willing to assist “any brother country and any country in the world” that needs Colombia’s experience in the fight against international crime.
Narco-trafficking gangs have used semi-submersibles for more than a decade to send cocaine to the Central America and the U.S. The vessels, constructed from fiberglass in the jungles along Colombia’s coasts, generally are no longer than 15 meters in length and equipped to carry a crew of no more than four.
Cartels reportedly pay as little as US$1,500 to crew members for the dangerous, two-day journey, which involves enduring malfunctioning equipment, the risk of toxic fumes and 100-degree heat while seated in a cramped space.
Fitted with propulsion, satellite navigation and ventilation systems and fuel tanks, the vessels are capable of traveling about 3,200 kilometers at slow speeds. They barely are visible above the water, however, making them difficult to detect.
In June, Ecuador’s Coast Guard announced it seized a semi-submersible vessel that was under construction on a small island in the Gulf of Guayaquil on the Pacific Coast. When completed, the vessel reportedly would have been able to transport as much as 10 tons of cocaine.
That vessel was similar in size to a semi-submersible also seized in June by neighboring Colombia. On June 25, Colombian authorities said they’d found a vessel capable of carrying eight tons of cocaine that was built in the jungle in the municipality of Mosquera in the southern department of Nariño.
It was found on the shores of the Guandipa River, which flows into the Pacific Ocean, said Rear Adm. Rodolfo Amaya, commander of the Pacific Naval Force.
“This is a big vessel, made of fiberglass, with two engines and navigation equipment,” Amaya said at the time.
The vessel had an approximate value of US$1 million and authorities believe it belonged to Los Rastrojos, an ultra-violent narco-trafficking group.
It was the second semi-submersible seized by the Navy this year, after one confiscated on May 28 on the Cajambre River, close to the Pacific port city of Buenaventura, authorities added.
Last year, the Navy discovered a semi-submersible that was going to be used to smuggle narcotics in the port city of Tumaco, close to the border with Ecuador, in the same area as the Oct. 22 seizure.
That vessel was 18 meters long and three meters wide and valued at US$800,000. In all, Colombian law enforcement agencies have seized or intercepted more than 66 drug transport semi-submersible vessels since 2003.
Meantime, Ecuador is investing about US$125 million to modernize two war submarines in Chilean Navy shipyards, the Ministry of Defense announced late last year.
The first submarine, “Shyri,” was modernized by the Chilean Navy Armory and Shipyards (ASMAR) and delivered to the Ecuadoran Navy last year. Another submarine, named “Huancavilca,” is undergoing the identical modernization process at ASMAR and should be ready by February 2014.
“The units are property of the Ecuadoran Naval Force and will be used to defend national sovereignty,” the Defense Ministry said in a prepared statement. “[The modernizing of the submarines] will benefit the country, as it will allow for better control of territorial waters, as well as combating drug trafficking and transnational crime.”