The narco submarine phenomenon is reaching new heights. 2019 yielded a bumper crop of narco-submarines, and it looks set to continue in 2020. These purpose-built vessels are one way Colombian cartels smuggle drugs. Routes take drugs up the Pacific towards Central America (and onwards to the United States), across the Caribbean and over the Atlantic to Europe and East Africa. Based on open source intelligence there were over 40 reported incidents in 2019. This compares to just two a decade earlier. But this is just the tip of the iceberg because most get through.
Despite the higher rate of interdictions, they keep coming. So there is no sign that the losses are at a level which deters the DTO (drug trafficking organizations).
The World's ONLY Guide to
10 years of research, analyzing over 160 incidents, condensed into a handy guide. This unique book systematically breaks down the types and families. With detailed taxonomy, recognition 3-views, profiles and photos. Available on Amazon
Virtually all of these ‘submarines’ are actually low-profile vessels (LPVs) designed to escape detection by riding low in the water. They do not fully submerge. Instead a few feet of fiberglass rises above the surface. This is enough to make them extremely difficult to see.
There are a few more things which are not widely known about these vessels. One is that most are mass produced in secret Artisan workshops in the Colombian jungle. This means near-identical copies produced in multiple batches over years. Although many designs look very similar to untrained eyes, each master boat builder leaves their personal mark in the way they express their ideas. Subtle design choices act as a fingerprint to connect separate reported incidents. In this way, thanks to my database of over 180 incidents, I have devised a detailed taxonomy (which is set out in full in my book, the only one on the topic).
Below I will lay out the main categories and give examples:
LPV-IM - Low Profile Vessel with inboard motor
The main category historically, terminology updates the SPSS (self-propelled semi-submersible) label.
LPV-OM - Low Profile Vessel with outboard motor
Merging LPV and go-fast modes, these look more like speed boats but are intended to run low in the water.
LPV-OM-VSV - Low Profile Vessel with outboard motor, very slender vessel
Get The essential guide to World Submarines
This Covert Shores Recognition Guide Covers over 80 classes of submarines including all types currently in service with World Navies.
Check it out on Amazon
LPV-IM-VSV - Low Profile Vessel with inboard motor, very slender vessel
FSV - Fully submersible vessel
Includes both true submarines and 'snorkel subs' which keep a mast above water.
Learn EVERYTHING about Special Forces subs Covert Shores 2nd Edition is the ONLY world history of naval Special Forces, their missions and their specialist vehicles. SEALs, SBS, COMSUBIN, Sh-13, Spetsnaz, Kampfschwimmers, Commando Hubert, 4RR and many more.
Check it out on Amazon
Related articles (Full index of popular Covert Shores articles)
Cutaway of Jules Verne’s Nautilus
LTTE Sea Tigers' sneak craft and midget subs
Taedong-B 'Kajami' ('Zulfikar') submersible boat
Armored Stealth Boat used for car smuggling by Chinese organized crime
Nordenfelt steam powered submarines of the 1880s. w/Cutaway