On Monday, Spain’s Civil Guard managed to refloat what’s been described as the first narco-submarine ever intercepted in European waters.
The efforts to raise the sub met with several setbacks, including bad weather and the fact that two of the ropes that divers had attached to the vessel broke while it was being towed to port.
The submersible was finally refloated at around 11pm on Monday in the port of Aldán, in Pontevedra province, in Spain’s northwestern region of Galicia.
Little is known about the submarine, which was intercepted near the coast on Sunday in a joint operation involving Spain’s Civil Guard, National Police and customs officers. The seizure was made possible thanks to information provided by the US Drug Enforcement Administration.
Two crew members have been arrested and police are searching for a third individual who got away during the operation. The detainees, who hail from Ecuador, said that the third man is a Spanish national.
The sub is believed to be carrying around 3,000 kilograms of cocaine from Colombia that was going to be delivered in Galicia, where local drug clans have been operating for decades along its rugged coastline.
Investigators believe the 22-meter submarine was built in a clandestine shipyard in South America, probably in Suriname or Guyana, and that it was a single-use vessel.
Narcotics officers in Spain had been hearing for years about the existence of these vessels from their informants, but none had ever been seized in Europe. “Nobody had seen this one before, not the Colombians either,” said a source familiar with the investigation.
“They had been traveling for over 20 days, and spent another seven days waiting at various points for someone to come pick up the drug, but nobody showed up and the conditions at sea got worse,” said this source.
The vessel was ultimately abandoned near Hío beach, where dozens of police officers where hiding in a bid to witness the drug transfer from the sub to the pick-up boat, following the tip-off from the US. But nobody showed up.
Now, investigators are trying to determine which Galician drug clan was supposed to pick up this particular shipment: “It’s got to be a powerful one, if they can afford to spend €1.5 million on a single-use submarine.”
English version by Susana Urra.