By Jim Garamone
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
“Bigfoot” is an ungainly looking craft that’s displayed outside the headquarters of the Joint Interagency Task Force South.
It’s a 50-foot-long semi-submersible craft that cocaine traffickers packed full of 4.5 metric tons of cocaine and then tried to sail to the waters off Mexico in 2006. Tips from the task force led to the seizure of the vessel, its cargo and its four-man crew.
The task force is the epicenter for interdicting cocaine trafficking, and if the members of the command wonder if they are affecting the illicit trade, they need only look at Bigfoot to understand that they are.
“We had heard rumors that cocaine traffickers were working on a semi-submersible for some time,” said an intelligence analyst at the command who specializes in the craft. “We even had some really grainy pictures of them. Our admiral at the time took a look at the pictures and said they reminded him of the alleged pictures of Bigfoot, and we all sort of laughed about it.”
The semi-submersibles were considered sort of mythical, “then the Coast Guard seized this off the coast of Costa Rica,” he said.
The traffickers built the semi-submersible in the mangrove swamps of southwestern Colombia. They designed it to evade visual searches and some radars, the analyst said. A diesel engine powers the boat and it just brutes through the water. Even light seas sweep over it.
“I took it out to see what it could do after we brought it here,” the analyst said. “I got it up to 12 knots, but that was really pushing it. Typically, it would sail at about six to eight knots.”
And conditions aboard are pretty nasty. “The temperature soars, and there was an overwhelming smell of grease and sweat,” he said. “The crew is typically a captain, an engineer and two others. They had a bucket for a head, and that added to the odor, too.”
Traffickers spend roughly $1 million to build the boats in covered areas with access to the ocean. They load the boats with as much cocaine as they can, and then the crew sails it to a rendezvous point about 100 to 200 miles off the Mexican coast, where they transfer the drugs. The typical voyage takes eight days.
Once the drugs are transferred, the crew scuttles the craft. “It’s just one cost of doing business for the cartels,” the analyst said. The task force has interdicted 80 semi-submersibles since capturing Bigfoot.
Semi-submersibles like Bigfoot are far more expensive than simply loading drugs aboard a “go-fast” surface boat, the analyst said. The fact that traffickers turned to this means of transportation indicates the task force is having an effect on the trade.
“They wouldn’t do it if they didn’t have to,” he said.
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