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Cartels add 'narco-subs' to their drug-trafficking fleets in new challenge for Border Patrol

‘Narco-submarines’ have become so lucrative, cartels will reportedly destroy them after a trip to avoid detection.

Published: July 31, 2023 11:46pm

U.S. Customs and Border Protection last month stopped a semi-submersible off the southwest Mexico coast in which roughly four tons of cocaine was seized. It was a big bust but certainly not the first time the agency has thwarted an alleged plot to bring drugs into the U.S. with such a watercraft, as smugglers become increasing sophisticated with their use of drones and so-called "nacro-subs."

The 8,200-plus pounds of narcotics seized last month by the agency's Air and Marine Operations was worth over $108 million and what CBP called "illicit proceeds from going to transnational criminal organizations."

Such waterborne operations appear to have been going on for at least the past five years.

Colombian officials say from 2018 to 2021 they alone seized 111 semi-submersibles.

The U.S. has also seized several over the years, including in 2021 when the FBI nabbed six Colombian Nationals transporting nearly 42,000 pounds of cocaine to the Sinaloa Cartel, with a "substantial portion" intended to go to the U.S., according to the Justice Department

It’s such a lucrative method of transportation that traffickers reportedly will destroy their subs to avoid them being found and traced back to them.

Drones being used in the drug trades appears more well known now and is larger problem for U.S. law enforcement. 

Chief Patrol Agent Gloria Chavez of the CBP's Rio Grande Valley sector recently told Congress the agency has detected as many as 25,000 in a single year.

"The adversaries have 17 times the number of drones, twice the amount of flight hours and unlimited funding to grow their operations," Chavez said at a congressional hearing.

According to conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch, Chavez’s sector alone captured nearly 700 pounds of fentanyl last year.

Art Del Cueto, vice president of the National Border Patrol Council, says cartels also appear to be flying drones over border patrol stations as potential intelligence-gathering operations.

The labor union's Brandon Judd thinks likewise, saying smugglers want to see "how can they facilitate the drug trade."

An alleged drug cartel member said drones are also being used to carry weapons, including explosives, to strike at enemies.

"They're not too sophisticated but can carry a considerable amount of explosives," the alleged member recently told Kentucky Courier Journal newspaper. 

He also said the cartels are getting the drones legally from the United States.

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