October 26, 2020

Sub-drug smugglers would stretch police

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A semi-submersible seacraft and (inset) Chief Inspector Patrick Beersingh

Local police are unprepared to combat drug smugglers operating semi-submersible seacraft, it was revealed today.

“I agree that it would stretch our capabilities, but intelligence sharing with neighbouring jurisdictions would help combat this,” said Chief Inspector Patrick Beersingh.

“We have heard of the semi-submersibles, and seen some reports. We had some information about boats that are not typical canoes,” he said, referring to the traditional long, low crafts smuggling drugs and firearms into Cayman from Jamaica.

The submarines, he said, “are usually out of South America, but there is nothing to suggest they are operating in our waters,” Mr Beersingh said.

Reports out of Florida on Wednesday described only the second US Coast Guard interdiction of a drug-smuggling submarine in the western Caribbean, spotted by a military C-130 Hercules aircraft. The pilot radioed the Cutter Mohawk, which tracked the boat and detained its crew.

Officials seized some of the vessel’s cocaine cargo before it sank, handing both the crew and drugs to US law enforcement.

The Coast Guard’s first interdiction of a drug smuggling vessel in the Western Caribbean Sea came on 13 July.

Coast Guard officials, according to the report, say the subs, less than 100 feet long, are usually built in South America and operated by no more than a handful of crew. Each boat carries as much as 10 metric tons of cargo within a range of 2,000 miles.

The “self-propelled semi-submersibles” are often used in the eastern Pacific to move drugs, the Coast Guard said, and are designed to sink rapidly as authorities appear, making seizure of the vessels and cargo difficult.

Cutter Mohawk’s commanding officer said the vessels, a relatively new development in drug smuggling, were “a serious operational challenge” because of their size, agility, enormous cargoes and near invisibility,

The semi-submersibles have been operating off the Pacific coast of South America for more than a decade, moving at least one-third of Colombia’s annual production of 800 tons of cocaine, although authorities in Bogota have said as much as 70% of the cocaine leaving the country’s Pacific coast is aboard semi-submersibles. One US Senator estimated that the vessels would ship up to 480 metric tons of cocaine this year.

In the last five years, US and other coast guard ships between Mexico and Colombia have detected nearly 200 of these subs. Between 2000 and 2007, only 23 of were spotted, but as they have become more popular, more than 70 are detected annually.

“They are usually used to haul drugs to other destinations, said RCIPS intelligence chief Superintendent Kurt Walton. “They usually carry cocaine, which, at $360 million per year, is a pretty good business.”

While he said Cayman had not yet confronted a semi-submersible threat, he acknowledged they would prove difficult to detect underwater, but pointed to Wednesday’s report involving the C-130.

“We do have maritime and air patrols already in place, and haven’t seen any evidence they have been near us,” he said.

“I have read some of the literature, though, and they don’t submerge to any great extent,” he said, referring to reports that the vessels are usually built of fibreglass with a conning tower and exhaust pipes protruding above the water.

 

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