While Central and South American law enforcement officials have been snatching drug-running submarines in and around the Caribbean for years, according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, the sub problem might be bigger than many of us had thought.
The United Nation’s Alexandre Schmidt recently said that those same drug cartels are using subs to transport drugs to Africa in order to feed the hungry European market.
Since smuggling large amounts of drugs into European maritime hubs and airports is just too risky, cartels have been shipping their loads to Africa, then using corrupt or non-existent law enforcement and local government officials as cover to carry their haul over land, and eventually into Europe. While no subs have been caught off of the African coast, Schmidt says that there’s evidence that they’ve become one of the ways to cross the Atlantic. “We are not talking about military vessels here,” he said, “but rather smaller ones which can be bought freely on the international market by anybody who has a couple of million dollars to spare,” he said at a recent meeting of a new policy group called the West Africa Coast Initiative.
Cartels have long used aircraft to fly product to Africa, leading to a November 2009 incident where one managed to land a Boeing 727 in the Malian desert and offload an estimated 10 tons of cocaine before torching the plane.
While cocaine seizures in the region had gone down from 47 to 35 tons a year between 2008 and 2009, the Africa to Europe route is still worth about $800 million a year, according to U.N. estimates.
This latest (possible) addition to what is an increasingly sophisticated cartel arms chest comes amid several captures of armored vehicles in Mexico, including one dubbed “el Monstruo,” and the U.S. government’s failed campaign to track illegal weapons flowing south across the border. Insurgents have always found ways to equip themselves and keep the gear flowing, but the powerful—and wealthy—Mexican cartels are beginning to display an ambition we haven’t seen before in a non-state actor. It also comes at a time when researchers are warning about the threat that cartels pose in the American littorals.