Just when you thought that the design of narco-subs had standardized, a new type arrives. On 20th May the Colombian and Ecuadorian forces intercepted a drug-laden narco-sub near the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific. The design is new and interesting in several ways.
Unlike typical narco subs which have the crew compartment in the center, this boat has the compartment in the extreme stern of the vessel like on a speed boat. And instead of a single diesel engine in a compartment behind the cockpit, it has two large outboards bolted onto the back. At first glance it looks like a go-fast boat, but the air vents and low freeboard give away that it is actually an exotic hybrid between a 'go-fast' speedboat and a Low Profile vessel (LPV), the most common class of narco-sub.
Reported capabilities suggest that it has an operating speed of between 20 and 30 kts (e.g. 1,700-2,000 nautical miles in 5 days) which is at least 3 times faster than the typical LPV. The trade-off however likely to be stealth.
The fibreglass boat had a crew of three and was 12m (40ft) long and 2.5m (8ft) across. At face value the size appears similar to typical narco-subs, but the cargo capacity was much smaller at just 1.5 tons versus 6 tons typical load. That’s still worth about $45m to the Cartels however so well worth the investment.
We can guess at why the design is so different to the prototypical narco-sub. One possibility is that the lighter load and aft-set engines are designed to provide greater speed than typical narco-subs. The low freeboard (distance from the deck to the waterline) reveal that it does not have a fully planing hull however so it does not lift its nose very far out of the water when running at full throttle, thus limiting the top speed. So it’s halfway between a ‘go-fast’ drugs boat and the typical low profile narco-sub which trades speed for stealth.
Another possibility is that the designer worked backwards from the availability of outboards, adopting a hull form best suited to the materials at hand.
And/or it is that this was designed by a new player who simply has a different approach than established narco-sub designers. This last option is partly supported by the fact that this is the first narco-sub seized that is associated with the Úsuga Clan (Los Urabeños), a neo-paramilitary group involved in drugs trafficking and the Colombian armed conflict.
Based on the available images, we can guess that this design will have a higher infrared signature and more visible wake than typical designs. Additionally it was painted in a relatively easy to spot scheme (most nacro-subs are painted mid-blue for a reason).