"When I first saw them, I was surprised that they can actually have the technology to build something like this," said a Coast Guard officer. He went on to describe that drugs subs aren't fully submerged. Instead, most of their hull is just below the waterline. Each sub can carry up to 10 tons of cocaine and they have a 3,000-mile range.
Coast Guard Cmdr.Erich Telfer explained that these "self-propelled semi-submersibles" are almost impossible to detect.
"They camouflage it and it has only a foot or two of space above the water," Telfer described.
Law enforcement officials believe that drug subs are built in the jungles of Columbia by traffickers who spend up to $2 million on each vessel.
Drug subs can come in a variety of different sizes. Some are 35-feet long while others can be twice as big.
"They're very difficult to intercept," said a Coast Guard officer. The Coast Guard 'sub hunters' are based in San Diego but they patrol thousands of miles of coastline from South America to California.
A navy chopper spotted a 60-foot drug sub near Guatemala and the Coast Guard gave chase. They confiscated over six tons of cocaine, worth almost $ 200 million.
"Traditionally, they have about four members on board. One guy would drive, one guy would look out, the other two will rest and they switch," said a Coast Guard officer. "The comfort level is very low. There is very little room to move around. They have a little bit of food, a little bit of water and a couple personal effects," said a Coast Guard officer.
Undercover Coast Guard officers face a daunting task. It's estimated there will be 90 drug subs launched this year.
"If I thought we didn't make a difference, I'd call the commandant and I'd tell him to shut the whole thing down. Do we stop everything? No, but we stop an awful lot," said Telfer.
Often, drug subs are scuttled before the Coast Guard can confiscate the drugs, but the San Diego unit confiscated 64 tons of cocaine in 2009 alone.
KGTV contributed to this report.
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