From Popular Mechanics: Guatemalan police found this odd watercraft that uses the same hull technology as military vessels—a long, narrow type that is both difficult to detect and faster than other homemade drug-smuggling boats. They are called Very Slender Vessels (VSVs) and this was the first time drug cartels were seen using them.

Guatemalan Ministry of Defense photo.

The ship was abandoned when it was discovered by the Guatemalan National Civil Police about 23 miles off the coast of Guatemala, between the Sipacate and Nahualate Rivers. According to HI Sutton, author of the Covert Shores web site, the ship had been stripped of its outboard motors and navigation equipment.

Sutton, a naval analyst who specializes in naval special forces craft including submersibles and VSVs, says it is a sophisticated design. “VSVs are normally associated with Navy Special Forces or racing, so this is the first time we have seen a narco-sub which uses this design”, Sutton told Popular Mechanics.

Colombian drug smugglers started using unconventional hull designs in the 1990s. In an eerie parallel to modern air and sea warfare, the drug cartels went from fast but easy to detect speedboats to slower, low-profile semi-submersibles and actual submarines.

Guatemalan Ministry of Defense photo.

“The VSV form is ideal for semi-submersibles and means that it can be faster and keep a lower profile,” Sutton says. “The downside is that there is less room inside for cargo. But the payload will still be worth millions of dollars so it is easily worth it for the drug smugglers.”

VSVs are designed to be faster than other semi-submersible designs. “The sharp bow of the VSV punches through waves instead of riding over the top like a normal boat, and the slender body, which is about as wide as it is tall, ensures that the whole boat follows. So it goes like a bullet even in heavy sea.” Sutton estimated the ship’s speed at about 20 knots, fast enough to take a 2,000 mile indirect route from Colombia to Mexico or Guatemala in four days.

In 2016, U.S. Customs and Border Protection detected a semi-submersible in the eastern Pacific, painted blue green and hiding an estimated $194 million in cocaine aboard. The semi-submersible accidentally became a full submersible, however, and the ship sank to the bottom of the ocean before the drugs could be pulled off. The year before, a similar ship carrying 12,000 pounds of drugs—the largest capture to date—sank off the coast of Mexico.


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