Massive Increase In Transatlantic Narco Submarines

Narco submarine stopped
U.S. Coast Guard board a narco-submarine off Guyana, March 21 2024

Massive Increase In Transatlantic Narco Submarines

Narco-submarines are transporting tons of cocaine across the Atlantic from South America to Europe. There have been indications of this going back ten years, but it was proven in 2019 when one showed up in Spain. That was followed by another in March 2023. But those could be argued to be unusual.

Now four more incidents, over a few months, hints at the scale and persistence of this unseen and under-discussed phenomenon. The three narco-submarines have distinct 'signature' elements strongly suggesting that they were designed and build separately by different organizations.

I don’t have the time to dedicate to the narco-submarine topic as I used to. Hopefully this short note will help useful.

Like almost all ‘narco submarines’ the vessels used are not true submarines. They cannot submerge, instead relying on running extremely low in the water to avoid detection. The approach works; most get through.

4 Incidents

1. Narco submarine (LPV-OM-1) captured near São Caetano de Odivelas, Brazil, on Feb 14 2024.
Narco submarine stopped

2. On March 21, 2024 the U.S. Coast Guard, assisted by the U.S. Navy Ticonderoga Class guided missile cruiser USS Leyte Gulf (CG-55) interdicted one off Guyana. The vessel, carrying 2,370 kg (5,225lb) was approximately 150 miles off the Guyana coast. Given its location it is logical to assume that it was starting its journey across the Atlantic when it was stopped.
Narco submarine stopped

3. Then on June 17-18 a narco-submarine was interdicted off the Galician coast. The vessel was initially detected by French Navy about 100 miles off the coast between Luarca and Cabo Vidio, northern Spain. It was subsequently interdicted by Spanish Customs Surveillance Service.
Narco submarine stopped
Unusually, the vessel was empty and heading West, away from Europe. Presumably it had already unloaded. It is unclear why it had not been scuttled in situ, possibly it was returning to Latin America for a return journey.

4. On June 26 Spanish police aboard SVA Fulmar interdicted a narco submarine 200 miles from the Canary Islands. The vessel was carrying 900kg of cocaine. The 4 crew scuttled the vessel before being rescued and arrested.
Narco submarine stopped

Subsequently on June 27 a large rigid inflatable boat, with four outboard motors, a radar and sophisticated communications, was beached at Tazacorte, La Palma. It is understood that this craft was part of the criminal operation to receive the bales of cocaine. Or possibly refueling and resupplying the narco sub. Although in that case we might expect a more discrete support vessel, such as a fishing boat.
Narco submarine stopped

It is significant that these transatlantic narco subs are not particularly special in design terms. The ones used in the Pacific for the comparatively short trip north to Mexico, work in the unforgiving Atlantic.

Interestingly the transatlantic examples, thus far, have nearly all used a layout with an internal motor (LPV-IM). This is instead of outboard motors (LPV-OM) which are now more common in the Pacific. Possibly this is because they are considered more seaworthy and habitable, and so that they can perform maintenance on the engine. In the other hand, they seem content to only have a single engine. Twin engine designs exist and offer a greater safety margin, but none of the interdicted examples feature this.

The exception to the internal motor rule was one captured near São Caetano de Odivelas, Brazil, on Feb 14 2024.

Other Narco-Sub Trends To Watch

Narco submarines are also being used for transpacific routes. These likely target Australia and New Zealand where drugs are both in high demand and expensive.

Albanian smugglers developed an uncrewed surface drone for smuggling drugs across the Adriatic.

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