The discovery of a submarine carrying 3.3 tons of cocaine off Spain marks a “historic” turning point in the battle against drug trafficking, Spanish authorities said.
Police described it as the first “narco-submarine” intercepted in Europe, adding in a statement it was found off the north-western region Galicia on Saturday, stuffed with 152 neatly wrapped bales of cocaine.
Estimated street value of the drugs is 100 million euros ($110.22 million), Javier Losada, head of the central government delegation in Galicia, told reporters.
“This is a historic operation, one that will mark a before and after for security forces as they contend with this new possibility,” Losada said.
Video released by Spanish police showed divers entering the rusty vessel through a top hatch before surfacing it using air bags.
Spanish officials were initially tipped off about the vessel by an inter-governmental working group on drug smuggling, setting off a search that tracked down the submarine on Saturday night.
Rough seas complicated efforts to transfer the drugs to another boat, leading suspects to sink the submarine before abandoning it. As they did so, they were spotted by patrolling officers, police said.
Police arrested an Ecuadorian national wearing a wetsuit at the scene. On Sunday a second Ecuadorian was arrested and a third suspect remains on the run.
Police, noting use of submarines to transport drugs in the Americas is common, described the submarine as “homemade” and capable of carrying up to five tons of cocaine.
The submarine was transported to Cangas port in Pontevedra province, where the cocaine-filled packages were removed, police said.
The investigation continues, as police work to determine the origin of the drugs and who and where they were destined for.
Spanish police said the operation relied on help from police forces in Brazil, Portugal and the US.