- Rear-cockpit Narco Subs continue to dominate, partly replacing the more established mid-cockpit type.
- Narco-VSVs (Very Slender Vessels) are also well established with the forth example intercepted. These are similar to the above, but possibly represent a different Cartel's development.
- Three of the four VSVs were discovered abandoned after (or maybe during) completing their missions, suggesting a higher success rate than the regular rear-cockpit type.
- Narco Subs continue to be found further afield along South America's North Atlantic coast.
Narco Sub developments and trends
At the end of December 2017 the US Coast Guard cutter Steadfast returned from a 50 day deployment to the Eastern Pacific off the Mexican and Central American coasts where she intercepted five separate drug-smuggling vessels. One of those vessels, intercepted on the 30th November with just over 1.5 tons of cocaine on board, was a so-called "Narco Sub":
The fiberglass four-man craft is typical of recent LPVs. Source: Dvids
The purpose-built narcotics trafficking boat was typical of what I term rear-cockpit Low Profile Vessels (LPVs). These are not as low in the water as previous central-cockpit LPVs and have outboard motors. It is difficult to say why these have become the predominant type, or at least the predominant intercepted type. Although signature readings are not available in the public domain, we can reason that they have a greater radar, infrared and acoustic signature than the previous type.
It was almost identical to one seized by El Salvadorian forces on 26th October 2017 231 nautical miles south of Punta Remedios, Acajutla. That boat had four crewmen (three Columbians and a Guatemalan) and was carrying 1,681kg of cocaine:
It was also very similar to several earlier examples, including this one seized by USCGC Active in February 2017 in Eastern Pacific:
2018 started where 2017 left off with the US Coast Guard Cutter Stratton intercepting a drug smuggling Low Profile Vessel (LPV) in eastern Pacific Ocean. Boarding teams arrested the four-man crew (standard number for a Narco Sub) and seized 3,414 lb of cocaine.
On 15th February the US Coast Guard cutter Northland intercepted another rear-cockpit LPV in the Eastern Pacific. This vessel was almost identical to the one seized by USCGC Steadfast in November 2017:
The now-traditional mid-cockpit Narco Subs are still being found however. On 11th November 2017 USCGC Spencer intercepted this example in the Eastern Pacific. Note how much lower it is in the water compared to the rear-cockpit examples above:
First Narco Sub found in Surinam
Surinam, on the northeastern Atlantic coast of South America between Guyana and French Guiana, has found its first Narco Sub. Three Colombians were arrested with a large twin-engined Low Profile vessel (LPV) in late February or early March 2018. Although Surinam is a well known transit point for Columbian cocaine trafficking, it has not been associated with Narco Subs, possibly because the trade goes to Africa and Europe. The Narco Sub find is also significant because it is on the Caribbean side - most Narco Subs seizures are on the Pacific side.
The design is conventional with inboard engines and a central crew compartment.
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Rise of the Narco-VSV
Seizures of rear-cockpit LPVs are interspersed with a more extreme variation which takes the form of a low-profile Very Slender Vessel (VSV). At least four have been documented, starting in early 2017. The most recent was discovered abandoned off Coast Rico on 4th March 2018.
The Narco Sub was 18 meters long and just 1.65 meters across, with a height of 1.30 meters.It was discovered 2.2 nautical miles southwest of Punta Burica beach and about 20.4 nautical miles southeast of the entrance to Golfo Dulce.
It is also similar to this example from 22nd April 2017:
Of note, three of the four VSVs were discovered abandoned, possibly having completed their missions, suggesting a higher success rate than the regular rear-cockpit type.
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