back to article First true submarine captured from American drug smugglers

Authorities in Ecuador say they have captured the first true submarine designed and built to smuggle drugs. "Semi-submersible" vessels have long been built for the narcotics trade, but it appears that the drug runners have now upped their game to make vessels able to travel completely underwater. "It is the first fully …


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  1. william henderson 1

    nato reporting name

    "Snort" class perhaps?

    1. Hedley Phillips


      I love Submarines.

      We named our 3rd child Akula which is the NATO reporting name for the Project 971 SSN

      1. Citizen Kaned



        never give your kids stupid names - hell, my name is Liam. im 35. it was only after liam gallagher was around that people didnt think my name was leon/ian and i had a speech impedement. i would say 'my name is liam', then they would say 'nice to meet you leon'. grrr

        my neighbour after 10 years still calls me leon, but he is an old coffin dodger anyway.

        anyway, im off to pick up my kids Han and Leia :) j/k

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. Tim #3


        And is the wife aware of that?

        1. Hedley Phillips

          yes she is...

          And was at the time. ;-)

          It is a Hindu name meaning "Transcendental and without cast" and until Liam's post, has always met with positive remarks.

          1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov


            And it means "Shark" in Russian...

            1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

              @Vladimir Plouzhnikov

              And it means "Shark" in Russian...

              That sound more like a name for a class of submarine.

              I presume you mean the Type 971 attack know in Russia as pike class.

            2. Daniel Evans

              Could be worse...

              I mean, a transcendental shark sounds fairly cool.

              1. James Hughes 1

                Only cool if..

                the shark has frikkin' lasers.

          2. Les Matthew

            Re: yes she is...

            Take no notice of Leon. ;)

  2. Tom_


    I guess it may be the first completed one, but it reminded me of reading about one in 2000.

  3. david wilson

    Hiding a submarine?

    Could a submarine be fairly effectively masked from much detection by shadowing a friendly surface vessel?

    Could a sub even be towed underwater for the larger part of a long journey, lessening its need for long independent range, and also providing comfortable accommodation for most of the crew, etc?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      RE: Hiding

      I think they kinda do this, pretty sure one of their methods of smuggling is dragging an air tight contain under water behind the boat.

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

    3. william henderson 1


      "Could a submarine be fairly effectively masked from much detection by shadowing a friendly surface vessel?"

      "buggering the whale" is what the russians call it.

      oh well

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Easy enough

      It doesn't need to be a friendly surface vessel, any large cargo ship will do. The big cargo vessels are rather slow and noisy so I imagine it wouldn't be too hard to hide behind until close enough to to shore to make a run to the drop point.

  4. Anonymous John

    We all live

    in an Acapulco Gold submarine.

  5. Tom 7 Silver badge

    Can I be the first to put in a bid

    for it when it comes up at the auction - be a real boon to my lobster collecting and should help wipe them out a lot faster than lots of pots!

  6. Rogerborg

    And they say junkies never achieve anything

    Stoners, crack hos and smackheads of America: see what impressive fruits your sponging, stealing and selling yourself has borne.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      That is not junkies' work by the look of it

      1. Most likely that is not junkies, but "engineering consultants"

      2. When the previous unfinished sub (2000) was discovered the rumour mill mentioned something about Russian/Eastern European engineers. I suspect it is once again the case. So I would wager that there were no junkies at work here. Clean white shirts, take the money and go to next contract.

      3. Frankly the design looks like a replica of a small WW1/Interwar submarine of the "wet conning tower" variety. There have been a number of improvements on this since WW1 and some are present even in WW2 submarines (Shch class is an example - see hull shape). It is possible to push the carrying capacity and the submersion depth by a very large margin while staying within the same size/budget so it can be built on a river and sail downriver to the ocean.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Missing the point

        I don't think he said or even implied that junkies, hos and other assorted stoners actually went to the jungle and made a submarine. It was just a tongue in cheek comment about the unintentional side effects of their illicit habits. The junkies didn't build it - their money did.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        RE: not

        his point was the druggies paid for it, not made it

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Prohibition really works doesn't it?

    So the drug lords are suffering so badly under the continual pounding of the anti-drug authorites that they are upgrading from boats, via semi-subersibles, to full-scale submarines.

    Makes you think . . . .

    1. Anonymous Coward

      @Prohibition really works doesn't it?

      "Makes you think . . . ."

      ....that next The Druglorden will be using transporter technology like on "Star Trek".

      And then this inevitable cell phone conversation...

      "Beam me the drugs"

      "Beam me the cash first"

      "Ok, but I will beam back my cash if you don't beam me the drugs"


  8. Desk Jockey


    US waters is perhaps not the best place to take this submarine. The US has a huge sonar line from the cold war days and it was meant to detect the best submarines that the Soviet could field. A noisy diesel clattering along would get picked up pretty quickly. Yes I know they can use their battery to stay quiet, but not long enough to get through the line, plus their aircon system and people moving about inside will probably give the game away. This is a very expensive and somewhat flawed delivery system!

    Damn right the navy types would love to be chasing these things under the sea with sonar. The Caribbean tour is already one of the most popular ones due to the drug chasing action that it offers, throwing in some counter-sub warfare would just be dandy thankyouverymuch!

    1. Anonymous Coward


      Yes the microphones might pick them up, but would it be able to differentiate the clanking diesel used from that of a clanking diesel in a fishing boat? Soviet subs have a specific signatures, use a commercial fishing boat engine and you get hundreds of false positives. Given the size and complexity of the subs I doubt it the crew would move about as it would drastically alter the subs trim, either sending it to the bottom or broaching to the surface. If the crew is disciplined and trained, a very effective delivery system. Remember this is the first one they have discovered being constructed, not necessarily the first one they made.

      1. Matt Bryant Silver badge

        RE: SOSUS

        IIRC, the underwater mic system is just part of the setup, the USN feeds it into a combined picture of long-range radar and satellite imagery, so when they "hear" a fishingboat but can't find the corresponding surfaced boat it will be a sure give away.

        /Skull and cutlasses, naturally! :)

      2. Anonymous Coward

        You're kidding, right?

        Commercial underwater security tech like the Sonardyne Sentinel system can differentiate between air-fed and scuba divers- even rebreather-equipped divers, as well as differentiating between people, fish, ROVs, boats, subs, etc.

        It is a very good system- you needn't worry about it mistaking a sub for a boat- and comes way within the budget of even police drug squads and the like.

        So think what the US Navy will have been able to turn around with a rather larger budget and with the requirement of finding whatever their (presumably) just as clever Soviet counterparts could throw at them.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Build quality

          Without going into details about sub construction, there is a reason why they are coated with rubber tiles and as much of the equipment as possible is mounted on springs. This tends to cost a hell of a lot of money, 4 million gets you just the kitchen I think! This sub can be useful in certain areas, but I would not want to take it anywhere near any competent anti-sub assets!

          Having been in a sub construction/refit shed I want to know how the heck did these people manage to build this one without anyone finding it before it got to the swamp? You can't just stack one on top of some stilts in a jungle and then roll it to the water! Bought second hand surely?

  9. Arkasha

    Doesn't surprise me

    There were, for many years, two WWII style submarines sitting in an outlet of the Solent at a junk yard down in Portsmouth. One got bought by a Japanese millionaire apparently. Not sure what happened to the other. With the kind of money the drug cartels are pulling in, it really wouldn't surprise me if they went round buying these up, making them sea worthy and using them for nefarious schemes.

    1. Sir Runcible Spoon


      ...and then leaving an old fossil around for the authorities to pick up? Cunning buggers.

    2. Dave Bell
      Black Helicopters

      Surplus subs

      About fifteen years ago, there was an ex-Russian submarine moored close to the Thames Barrier, open to visitors. It was used as a set for an episode of a TV series as well. The battery compartment was a huge empty space, which seems to get used for several sequences.

      Submarine batteries are rather different from a stack of automotive batteries, worth removing to salvage the metal and chemicals, and so likely to be the big problem for this sort of idea.

      If I were investigating this, I would be looking closely at the batteries, trying to identify where thy came from.

    3. william henderson 1

      been done, so it seems.

      includes a picture of an ex usn sub so sold and recovered, allegedly:

  10. Sooty


    running on batteries would only hide you from passive detection? Very useful if you are in a war, and sending out active detection is more likely to get you killed than anyone else.

    If you are the police in your own controlled water, you wouldn't particularly be worried about being detected yourselves, and so should be able to find a sub even if it's running silently.

    1. John Mangan


      It did say in the article that deployment of active detection was very expensive over a wide area.

    2. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Active sonar

      What about the Greenies along the California coast, that have been protesting and bringing about court injunctions against active sonar use and testing? Could it be that they were "targeted" onto this activity for more than the acousted (hehe) dolphins and whales?

      Or are these "discovery" subs sourced by a counter ops to force "national security" overrides for the Navy's experiments and use?

  11. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

    Escalation of fun

    Will DEA/USCG now use ASROC or just depth-charge them until they see oil and bubbles coming up? The latter may be difficult due to the amount of oil already on the surface courtesy of BP...

  12. Andy Enderby 1


    Count on submarines awaiting scrappage being a somewhat dangerous technical proposition being at the end of their life. Naval diesel boats draw quite a bit of water requiring deep water access to the sea, require substantial crews and maintenance and are not likely to be the kind of thing anybody with a name resembling Escobar or Bin Laden will be allowed to purchase.

    Then again.......

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      It also

      looks like it is being built in a muddy swamp.

      Something isn't right about this story. Were they building it, or dismantling it for parts?

  13. Anonymous Coward

    I think I'd like this sub....

    TOASTED! With a healthy layer of napalm.

  14. copsewood

    what's wrong with the standard shipping container ?

    These must beat having mules going through air travel with swallowed condoms and custom-built submarines in terms of bulk delivery cost. According to Wikipedia, there are 17 million such containers around the world. All the drug smugglers have to do is contain one covert cargo inside the reported one. Such items have alternative uses, e.g. delivery of chemo/bio/nuclear warheads for rogue states and terrorist groups unable to afford a guided rocketry program.

    1. Adam Williamson 1

      They already do

      They already do that. For certain legs of the journey.

      There aren't many legitimate cargoes going on certain *other* legs of the journey, though.

  15. jon 72


    Sub hunting is akin to playing blind man's bluff with baseball bats, and at first glance it would appear that the homebrew less advanced boat would be at a distinct disadvantage. However there does exist a strategy that would tip the scales back in the narco-boats favor.

    Thankfully the drug lords engineering dept appear to be focusing upon replicating previous work, so they will not quite be able to pull the trick off quite yet. Though cannot be sure, seldom do we get a look inside at the nuts and bolts of captured craft.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Sumersive manevoures

      All you have to do is (like this sub) have it resemble a "biological" (animal or natural occurance) and either coat the surface or have it able to exude an attractor - phermones for whales or simple blood to attract sharks, etc. Having a slow boat at that point would be a bonus if you can seem to be just a member of a pod, etc.

      Automated vehicles are also ripe for exploitation, on both sides of this artificial conflict.

  16. elewton


    It's insane that prohibition has put so much cash into the black economy; we risk creating meta-nation of criminals.

    1. Walking Turtle

      World Cash Economy

      "It's insane that prohibition has put so much cash into the black economy; we risk creating meta-nation of criminals."

      That future-tense phrasing just might actually prove a tad bit overly optimistic, my friend. As put by Marty Feldmen following the "DAMN your eyes!" Moment in /Young/ /Frankenstein/: "Sorry. Too late."

      See for full realtime details. July 01 report's pretty much where it's been at ever since the Securitization Bubble burst due to the sudden-emerging, then ongoing lack of any more Greater Fools who might buy that gilt-edged tripe left in the world.

      After that, there was only drug cash. Seems Reuters or maybe AP mentioned that point just once, in the weeks post-crash.

  17. Gianni Straniero

    Just you wait ...

    ... until they get a flying submarine.

    1. Graham Marsden

      Prior art...

      ... watch Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea for one example!

  18. Doshu

    we all live

    in a drug-filled submarine

  19. Mike Richards

    As the man from the DEA says:

    "It is the first fully functional, completely submersible submarine for transoceanic voyages that we have ever found,"

    Which must mean it's better than anything BAE have produced for a long time.

    But be prepared for BAE lobbying that they need to build more multi-billion unarmed combat ships to protect the UK from South American drug smugglers.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      BAE and submarines

      "Better than anything BAE have produced for a long time".

      Well I know very little about submarines - at least compared to some of the frighteningly well-informed commenters on this article - but there was a cracking BBC documentary shown just over a week ago called "How to Build a Nuclear Submarine". This programme showed BAE doing just that, and very interesting it was too.

      It's still on iPlayer and well worth a look IMHO.

  20. Graham Marsden

    What a waste of money...

    ... on both sides.

    This whole fiasco could be ended if politicians had the guts to put their hands up and say "ok, we admit it, we cannot ever win this phony war on drugs, so we'll put the barons and the dealers out of business by decriminalising the product and getting the pharmaceutical companies to turn it out in clean, uncontaminated retail quantities (which they could do easily since they already produce it for the hospital market, eg what do you think diamorphine pain killer is?) and save a lot of suffering all around.

    1. ChrisB 2


      The war on drugs is lost and continuing it is a complete waste of time and effort.

      Much better to de-criminalise and put the soft stuff into off-licences and the hard stuff into pharmacies for non-prescription purchase. Pharma stocks, tax revenues and those who wish to all get high.


  21. Andus McCoatover

    To kill the trade...

    Why don't they simply make the drugs legal? The fuc*kwitts who are daft enough to take 'em will simply shuffle off this mortal coil quickly, and the rest of us can rest easy.

    Darwin Effect.

    "Drug barons" would be severely shafted, but so would police overtime. OK...ok, I think I'm getting the picture.

    1. Sarah Bee (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: To kill the trade...

      Wow, everything would be so much simpler if you were in charge.

      1. Stevie
        Thumb Up


        'Cos that worked so well in the UK with respect to re-circulatory respiration of heavy petroleum vapours emitted by adhesives by means of improvised paper rebreathers.

        How I ached to see the youth of Harlow destroying themselves with this illegal scourge, which I understand was also a problem in other cities. But enlightened minds have prevailed and now this so-called "glue" can be bought anywhere at modest prices and the youth of Britain is once again free of the pernicious need to huff the stuff.

      2. Bill Neal
        Thumb Up

        Yeah, and...

        it seems to work for Amsterdam. Actually most of the world believes treatment is more effective than punishment.

      3. Robert Hill

        He IS right though....

        Despite his rather plebeian writing style, his point is rather valid - it's time to consider treating drugs as a medical addition and social problem, and remove the criminal element. Al Capone did NOT want Prohibition to end, neither did the other Mafia bosses, and you can be sure the one thing the drug lords fear is an end to criminalisation. Once Prohibition ended, the Mafia was forced to turn to gambling, prostitution, protection, and eventually drugs distribution to try and make up for the hole in their income that legal liquor created.

        The drugs lords have no such easy ability to form non-drug criminal enterprises, as most of their money and power is abroad. Not to say they won't try, but none of those enterprises have the ease of money as drugs do today.

        As another poster has posited, we ARE creating an independent narco-state, complete with it's own army, navy, and huge numbers of military-grade weapons. That is a far, far worse result for our civilization than any uptick in drugs use is likely to be under decriminalisation.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So it's only taken the drug lords 21 years to see Licence to Kill

    I suggest the DEA take a close look at any nearby televangelist operations which may not be all they seem...

  23. Martin Usher

    New use for redundant Trident subs...

    ...there's customers down there for them willing to pay cash....

  24. Stevie


    You sold a non-nuclear submarine to a Mr P.N. Guin, and you didn't even get a *phone number*?

  25. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Use for Astute class after all.

    Who'd have thought it.

  26. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge


    It's also funny how, for the last 60years, the US has managed to prevent any incursions by the worlds largest airforce, with some of the best combat experienced pilots flying some of the most advanced jets in the world, sneaking in at low level over millions of sq-km of uninhabited north pole.

    Yet they can't seem to prevent a couple of old DC3s loaded with horticulture flying in a straight line between Columbia and Miami ?

  27. Peter Simpson 1

    Cocaine warhead torpedos

    Coming soon to a beach near you.

    //"I would like to have seen Montana."

    1. Captain TickTock

      "I would like to have seen Montana."

      He did, a few years later at the beginning of Jurassic park


  28. Jesse Dorland

    At least he knows his scoor :)

    At least he doesn't have to worry about studying for any more Navy exams. He already flunked the final.

  29. Mike 135
    Black Helicopters

    All i have in the world

    is my balls and my word and I don't break them for no one. It seems he also now has a shiny new submarine, a monopoly worth billions and half a continents politcal system in his pocket too. Not bad for someone that started off with only a word and some stones.

    Next they will be transporting in stealth bombers. 10tonnes per sub = 200million at 20k a kilo. Wikipedia says they used to be sold at $737million dollars a pop (1997 dollars) so Pablo only needs 4 runs with his sub before arming himself with a B2. Still, I'd rather a world cup trophy made of charlie fall on my house than a 500lb super bomb.

  30. Anonymous Coward

    A drug related submarine...

    Why isn't it yellow?

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