In 2023, as of December 20, the Colombian Navy seized 24 semisubmersibles in the Colombian Pacific in compliance with the Ayacucho Joint Strategic Campaign Plan, the military plan that supports the government’s “Total Peace” efforts.
Drug traffickers use semisubmersibles to transport illicit drugs due to their capacity to carry large quantities, and because these artifacts have evolved, have more hydrodynamics, and are more difficult to detect by radars or aircraft, Colombian Navy Captain Juan Pablo Pinilla Acosta, chief of Staff of the Pacific Naval Force, told Colombian radio station La W.
“[The seizures are] the product of regional interagency integration where governments have committed themselves to the fight against drug trafficking and have allowed the closure, blockade, and development of maritime operations in a sustained manner on the main maritime corridors used to transport narcotics,” Colombian Navy Vice Admiral Orlando Grisales Franceschi, chief of Staff of Naval Operations, told Diálogo. “One of the fundamental pillars in this area is the training and experience of human talent, which integrated with the operational and logistics capabilities of the National Navy have allowed our force to be a pioneer and reference for the interdiction of semisubmersible-type naval artifacts.”
The 24th seizure was reported in mid-November in the waters of the Colombian South Pacific. Upon inspecting the interior of the semisubmersible, manned by three persons, Coast Guard units found 94 packages containing suspected illicit substances.
“Upon their arrival at the dock [the seized substances] were placed at the disposal of the competent authorities, which upon performing the PIPH homologated preliminary identification test confirmed the result as positive for cocaine hydrochloride, with a net weight of 1,886 kilograms,” Colombian Navy Lieutenant Julián Mauricio Díaz Barragán, commander of the Tumaco Primary Coast Guard Station, told the press. According to the Navy, the drug was bound for Central America.
Also in November, the Colombian Navy destroyed two semisubmersibles found in the mangroves in the rural area of the municipality of Tumaco, Nariño. Troops from Marine Infantry Brigade No. 4, attached to the Hercules Joint Stabilization and Consolidation Task Force and the Command against Drug Trafficking and Transnational Threats, found the two artifacts, each with the capacity to transport nearly 4 tons of narcotics.
In early October, the Attorney General’s Office reported on an antinarcotics operation carried out in coordination with the Colombian Navy and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. “According to the Attorney General’s Office, judges in Tumaco imposed prison sentences on four Ecuadorian and three Colombian citizens who were transporting more than 6 tons of cocaine in two semisubmersibles,” Colombian daily El Tiempo reported.
And in the first quarter of 2023, the largest seizure in 20 years took place. The semisubmersible was 30 meters long by 3 meters wide, contained more than 3 tons of drugs, and was manned by three Colombians who were heading to Central America. “It had a greater autonomy than all the semisubmersibles seized in this area, which shows that drug trafficking organizations adapt to the needs of cargo and autonomy, improving the structure and propulsion capacity of these artisanal vessels to transport narcotics in a dynamic and safe way,” Vice Adm. Grisales said.
The drug trafficking organizations that use these types of devices are active in the departments of Cauca and Nariño, where they operate hand-in-hand with dissidents of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia present in these departments. These groups guarantee construction, security, and mobility corridors for exit to the sea and delivery to Central America, Vice Adm. Grisales added.
“The greatest challenge [in finding these semisubmersibles] is the difficulty in detecting these types of vessels since their physical and motor structure make it difficult to locate and allow them to hide at sea when they navigate,” Vice Adm. Grisales said. “Because of the above, precise naval intelligence plays a fundamental role to continue affecting these means of narcotics shipment.”