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Europe’s first ‘narco-submarine’ caught off Spain with 3,000 kilos of cocaine

Two crew members were arrested and a third got away during the joint operation on Sunday in the northwestern Galicia region

Narcosubmarino Cangas
The submarine after it was refloated. EL PAÍS

For Spanish narcotics officers, it had become something of a legend. But this past weekend, the legend became a reality.

On Sunday, the authorities intercepted the first “narco-submarine” ever caught in European waters. The vessel was seized off the coast of Pontevedra, in Spain’s northwestern Galicia region. It was carrying more than 3,000 kilograms of high-quality cocaine, according to sources familiar with the investigation.

Just the submarine itself must have cost around €2.5 million, said investigators

These sources added that the groups behind this shipment must be “big, since just the submarine itself must have cost around €2.5 million.”

The 22-meter-long submersible vessel had made the ocean journey from Colombia. Two crew members, both from Ecuador, were arrested by a joint team from the Spanish National Police, the Civil Guard and the Coast Guard. A search is underway for a third individual who escaped.

The stories about the existence in European waters of “narco-submarines such as the ones operating in the Pacific” had turned into something of a legend for Spanish narcotics officers. Since 2006, they had been hearing about drug-laden semi-submersibles making the trip to Spain and Africa. But no one had ever caught one.

An international tip-off put investigators on the trail

An international tip-off put investigators on the trail of a submarine carrying 3,000 kilos of cocaine from Colombia to Galicia, a region with a long history of drug-smuggling activity.

The vessel was intercepted off the coast of Aldán, within the municipal bounds of Cangas do Morrazo, in Pontevedra province. The same sources said that the submarine was made in Guyana in South America, and had been in operation “for years.” It was able to make “at least two trips a year.”

The operation has put a new spotlight on the drug trade in Galicia, which had been hard hit by numerous raids against its leaders. “They’ve taken advantage of the recent silence and worked discreetly while attention was focused on southern Spain,” said an investigator. This source added that the submarine “probably works with two of the strongest drug-trafficking groups that still operate in Galicia.”

The existence of these vessels had become something of a legend for Spanish anti-narcotics officers

This is not the first time that anti-narcotics raids have targeted submarines. Pablo Escobar, the notorious Colombian drug lord, was said to own a remote-controlled, 11-meter submersible that he allegedly purchased from the Colombian army. The vessel was ultimately located in a river in the middle of the jungle.

Galicia has a long history as a drop-off point for drug shipments because of its curving coastline filled with secluded coves. The police have carried out numerous raids in the region.

In August 2006, a homemade narco-submarine was found in an estuary in Vigo, in Pontevedra province. It was loaded with fuel and the engine was turned on. Judicial authorities later handed down two-year prison sentences to six individuals for attempting to bring cocaine into Galicia.

English version by Susana Urra.

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