Panama Concern about ‘Narco-Subs’

A Panamanian official said that drug traffickers operating in the Central American nation could be using submarines to transport merchandise and avoid detection by authorities.

The speculation came from officials from the Panamanian navy, though they refused to offer any details as to the source of their concerns. Panamanian authorities, who enjoy a reputation for being more competent and honest than other Central American nations, have thus far in 2011 seized more than a thousand kilos of cocaine.

While narco-subs have become popular in neighboring Colombia, they have not yet been detected in Panama. The Central American country has long had significant links with Colombian traffickers, both as a center for money laundering under former President Manuel Noriega, and later as a vital step along the northward route to the U.S.

Homemade narco-subs have grown in popularity over the past several years as a way for Colombian traffickers to avoid detection as they send cocaine toward the shores of Central American and Mexico. Authorities believe that the rise of these machines are a big reason for a 50 percent drop in drug seizures along Colombia’s Pacific coast from 2009 to 2010.

The initial models were semi-submersible, which means that they could only go a few feet beneath the surface. However, the newer narco-subs are fully submersible, making it much harder for authorities to track cocaine shipments while in transit.

Colombia discovered its first fully submersible drug submarine in February 2011. The ship was allegedly capable of diving up to nine meters underwater.