The investigation of the discovery of an almost complete narco-submarine has expanded to include the help of drug authorities in the United States, where the vessel will be transported for further forensic analysis.
Three months after the shocking discovery of the submarine in Region One, there is yet to be any breakthrough in the case but head of the Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit (CANU) James Singh insists that the investigation is still very active.
Singh told Stabroek News recently that there were some developments in the investigation but he could not give specifics because it is an active investigation.
Sources have told this newspaper that the vessel, which is being stored in the compound of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) Coast Guard base at Ruimveldt, was being prepped for shipment during the last few weeks. The vessel is to be transported to the US by sea.
Attempts to ascertain when the vessel is expected to leave these shores were futile.
Previously, overseas experts had carried out some on site forensic checks on the vessel.
Following the discovery, President Donald Ramotar had announced that United States’ Drug Enforcement Administra-tion (DEA) agents would assist local investigators. However, up to this point, it is unclear what form this assistance would take or whether the joint effort has started.
The discovery has raised questions about the country’s ability to fight the growing drug trade and the possible access of foreigners to parts of Guyana where there is no presence of security personnel.
The area where the vessel was discovered, like most parts of Guyana’s vast interior, is isolated and can easily seclude illegal activities.
A resident said that given the shallowness of the river, it would have to remain on the surface of the water until it reaches the Atlantic Ocean. The Waini River leads directly into the Ocean.
CANU announced the discovery in mid-August after an operation was conducted by its agents along with the GDF Special Forces, Coast Guard and Air Corps along the Waini River, in the North West District.
CANU said the blue vessel, later identified as a Self-Propelled Semi-Submersible (SPSS), was discovered about two miles in during a search of one of the creeks branching off from the Waini. Also found was a camp consisting of three structures for accommodation, a workshop and power generation.
According to CANU, the accommodation had the capacity to sleep approximately 12 persons and it included a kitchen area.
The workshop consisted of pulleys, power tools, paint, and fibre glass materials. “Based on the items present, it is evident that this area was used to build the SPSS found in the creek,” it said in the statement.
CANU added that the craft, upon closer inspection, was already fitted with a diesel engine and steering wheel, navigation and other machinery to deem it serviceable. There was, however, no contraband on board.
Based on the photographs provided by CANU, the vessel was almost completely painted.
“These semi-submersible vessels are built for one reason and one reason only and that is to transport drugs, mainly cocaine.
This vessel was more than likely going to Europe or Africa, not the US… the camp itself has been there for at least five months based on the materials found,” Singh had told the media.
Such vessels are used by drug cartels, especially the Columbians, to transport huge amounts of cocaine without detection. Security officials have repeatedly admitted that Guyana’s porous borders and the lack of police presence in the interior regions make it easy for the drugs to enter the country. Unlike the Guyana/Suriname and Guyana/Venezuela borders, there is no military or police present along the country’s North West Coast.
In the days following the discovery, a number of persons were detained but they were released after being questioned.
No strange activities
Meanwhile, according to information reaching the Stabroek News, there has been no sign of strange activity in the area since the discovery. Previously, this newspaper had been told that suspicious sightings had been reported to the police but no action was taken prior to the discovery of the sub.
A source said that it should be a cause of concern for all that nothing seems to be happening with the investigation. “One would want to think that given the importance of the discovery, we would have seen development,” the source pointed out, while adding that as with any other major crime development in Guyana, “there is a big fuss in the beginning and then you hear nothing at all.”
The source opined that given the fact that there are countries nearby which are known for drug trafficking, efforts should be solicited through diplomatic channels to determine whether a link can be made between any of those countries and Guyana.
In September, authorities stated that evidence found at the camp site led investigators to conclude that the vessel was constructed in Guyana, although the fiberglass used to build it and fuel were all imported from another country.
The only locally-sourced items found were the food stuff.
The source questioned why Guyana would be used as the building site, especially since the construction of these types of vessels has been happening for a long time now. He also questioned whether this is the first such vessel to be built in Guyana.
“Why would they build the submarine here?” he said, adding that based on the location and what was discovered, he had concluded that it was an attempt by “locals to try a thing.”
He said that he believes that while the locals had foreign help in terms of the design and actually constructing the craft, it was the idea of a local person. He said in building it here, the architects would have concluded that they would not have been discovered. “I think that it would be a Guyanese try a thing. Somebody maybe got a bright idea and linked up with foreigners to build it,” he said. He added that it would be impossible for locals to do it alone as it would involve lots of planning and expertise.
Based on what Singh said in September, the odometer reading revealed that the vessel travelled for only three hours and that includes a test run conducted in the Waini River by the law enforcement agencies to determine the maximum speed. He said that the top speed of the vessel when empty is about 10 to 12 knots, while when fully laden it has an average speed of six to eight knots.
The source said that strengthening the security presence in that area may not necessarily bear fruit as there are many isolated spots in the area and drug traffickers use varying means to solicit the support that they need.
The source also told Stabroek News that the discovery of the vessel is a frightening situation which should not be taken lightly. He said that there are more and more signs that Guyana is an easy target for drug traffickers and those in authority seem to not be taking note.
He pointed to the recent intercept of a large sum of US currency which was discovered on an aircraft heading to Guyana. The source said that questions now have to be asked about whether this money was the proceeds of illegal activity or whether it was going to be used to finance illegal activities, such as drug trafficking.