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Ecuador authorities seize drug-smuggling sub

By the CNN Wire Staff
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DEA finds first true drug submarine
  • Submarine being held near Ecuador-Colombia border
  • Authorities: Vessel was built to "facilitate trans-oceanic drug trafficking"
  • Sub is about 30 meters long, has periscope and air conditioning
  • Agents seized sub before its maiden voyage

(CNN) -- A fully functional submarine built for the primary purpose of transporting massive amounts of cocaine has been seized by Ecuadorean authorities with the help of U.S. drug enforcement agents.

A drug-trafficking organization built the sea-worthy vessel that is now being held near the border of Ecuador and Colombia, and one individual has been taken into custody, authorities said. The investigation into the group and the submarine, which was seized Friday, is ongoing.

"This is the first seizure of a clandestinely constructed fully operational submarine built to facilitate trans-oceanic drug trafficking," the Drug Enforcement Administration said in a statement.

The vessel utilized twin screws and was diesel electric-powered, the agency said. It was about 30 meters (98 feet) long and nearly 3 meters (nine feet) high from the deck plates to the ceiling. It has a periscope and an air-conditioning system.

"Traffickers historically employed slow-moving fishing boats, sail boats, pleasure craft go-fasts," said Jay Bergman, Andean regional director for the agency. "The advent of the narco-submarine presents new detection challenges for maritime interdiction forces. The submarine's nautical range, payload capacity and quantum leap in stealth have raised the stakes for the counter-drug forces and the national security community alike."

The submarine was constructed in a "remote jungle environment in an effort to elude law enforcement or military interdiction," the agency said.

Acting on intelligence, Ecuadorean authorities were able to seize the vessel for before its maiden voyage, the statement said.

CNN's Carol Cratty contributed to this report.