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Drug-smuggling sub seized by Ecuador reportedly able to dive 65 feet

July 7, 2010 | 12:43 pm

Submarine ecuador drugs

Authorities in Ecuador have seized a 100-foot-long submarine intended to smuggle drugs north to Mexico and the U.S., the latest in a string of captured drug-smuggling craft. The vessel found Friday in an "industrial complex" in swampland near Ecuador's border with Colombia is significant in that it was reportedly capable of diving as deep as 65 feet, unlike smuggling vessels known as semi-submersibles, which glide just beneath the surface.

The sub was fitted with "a conning tower, a periscope, air conditioning and 'scrubbers' to purify the air, and bunks for a maximum crew of six," Chris Kraul writes in The Times, reporting from Bogota.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency participated in the operation that netted the sub. It was not clear who built it. Jay Bergman, the DEA's Andean director, told Kraul in an interview that the cost of the vessel, with twin diesel engines, was estimated at $4 million. Bergman said the periscope appeared to be "military-issue."

It was the second drug-smuggling sub seized in Ecuador this year, reports El Comercio (link in Spanish). Kraul reported previously on this phenomenon in The Times, noting in 2007 that a likely source for some vessels is the FARC, the Colombian guerrilla group and drug-trafficking organization.

Colombian suppliers have sought to use submersibles to smuggle cocaine toward the U.S. since at least 2000. In July 2008, Mexican forces caught a drug-smuggling sub with a four-man crew off the southern coast of Oaxaca.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Ecuadorean forces watch over the seized drug-smuggling submarine. Credit: El Comercio

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