Drug traffickers slowly shift to submersible vessels

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Drug traffickers are challenging the U.S. Coast Guard and Latin American countries in a new way, bankrolling machine shops operating under cover of South American jungles to build diesel-powered submarines that would be the envy of all but a few nations.

After years of detecting these craft in the less-trafficked Pacific Ocean, officials have seen a spike in their use in the Caribbean during the last year, according to the New York Times. American authorities have discovered at least three models of a new and sophisticated drug-trafficking submarine capable of traveling completely underwater from South America to the coast of the United States.

The three fully submersible vessels already captured were capable of hauling 10 tons of cocaine and, by surfacing at night to charge their batteries off the onboard diesel engine, could sail beneath the surface all the way from Ecuador to Los Angeles.

With the use of these craft on the rise, American officials say they fear that the trafficking networks are moving away from so-called fast boats — the high-powered fishing and leisure boats that can carry about a ton of cocaine and are easier to spot — to semi-submersible and fully submersible vessels that can surreptitiously carry many more tons of drugs, which are unloaded in shallow waters or transported to shore by small boats.

More troubling for American officials is their belief that these vessels could be used by terrorists to transport attackers or weapons, although they emphasize that no use of submersibles by militants has been detected.

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