‘Cocaine sub’ sent to US for deeper forensic testing

The ‘cocaine submarine’ which was found in a secluded spot in the Waini area, North West District in August last year, has been transported to the United States where additional forensic tests will be conducted.

James Singh, head of the Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit (CANU) which played a major role in the stunning discovery told Stabroek News recently that the vessel has left these shores.

Last November, sources had told this newspaper that the vessel, which was 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 and a huge box had to be built to accommodate it.

Subsequent to the discovery, overseas experts had carried out some on-site forensic checks on the vessel. However it was later agreed that it would have to be sent abroad for more testing to be done.

The Self-Propelled Semi-Submersible found in the Waini
The Self-Propelled Semi-Submersible found in the Waini

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), and 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.

Concerns had been raised that persons are yet to be arrested and held responsible for the vessel. Asked for an update on   the investigations, James assured that progress is being made.

“Yes there has been headway regarding the submarine seizure and analysis,” he said but did not go into details. Back in November James had said too that there were some developments in the investigation and that it was very much active.

Given its remoteness, the absence of security personnel and its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean and the Guyana/Venezuela border, North West area is seen as the transit point for drugs flowing into the country.

Stabroek News spoke to several sources in the area and they again insisted that they made many attempts to alert the police in particular that illegal activities were taking place in the Waini area.

Previously, Stabroek News was told that the police were informed but that information was never acted upon.

A source who is familiar with the area said residents are still noticing suspicious persons and suspicious activities but are afraid to say anything. According to the source some see it as a waste of time to make reports as these have been ignored in the past.

The source said that given the fact that the area is a “hide out” there have been no efforts to beef up security in the North West District.

According to the source, there are no river patrols in the Waini area although there three army bases located on the outskirts.

Residents, according to the source, fear that illegal activities might be taking place and strongly believe that the discovered submarine was not the first of its kind to be built there.

According to the source, given the fact that the discovery strongly suggests that members of a drug cartel may be using Guyana as a base for their illegal activities, there is nothing to suggest that law enforcement officials are serious about cutting off drug traffickers.

The source also stated that the absence of the police from the operation raises questions. The operation that lead to the discovery was conducted by local drug enforcement agents and Guyana Defence Force (GDF) personnel.

In September, authorities stated that evidence found at the camp site led investigators to conclude that the vessel was constructed in Guyana, although the fibreglass used to build it and the fuel were all imported from another country.

The only locally-sourced items found were the foodstuff.

Based on that persons in the area claim that there is a huge possibility that fibreglass and fuel were smuggled in from Venezuela.

Singh said back in September that 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.

Such vessels are used by drug cartels, especially the Colombians, 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. There have been no other arrests since.

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