Thursday, April 16, 2009

Visions of The Atomic Submarine

I can recall from my younger days reading stories foretelling the use of nuclear propulsion for commercial purposes. One of the stars of such stories was the nuclear-powered submarine freighter, touted as more efficient and safer than its conventionally-powered surface equivalent. This beast first appeared in the 1959 B-movie The Atomic Submarine, as a normal transport (suddenly victimised by alien invaders, of course).

So it is with dismay, but little surprise, that I read that drug smugglers, tiring of having their trawlers and go-fast boats tracked and seized, should turn to submersible transports for their wares.
Today, smugglers are moving tons of drugs towards the United States in so-called “semi-submersibles,” homemade vessels that travel just below the ocean’s surface and cover distances of up to 2,000 miles.

Because they leave tiny wakes, the crude subs are extremely difficult to detect visually or by radar. Even when they are spotted, crew members quickly sink the vessels to get rid of the evidence and avoid being prosecuted for drug trafficking.

Authorities seized 14 semi-submersibles last year, and another six have been captured this year, according to Colombian Navy Capt. Mario Rodriguez.


Colombian authorities now believe that up to 70 percent of the cocaine leaving the country’s Pacific coast is packed aboard semi-submersibles. U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat, estimated that the vessels this year would ship up to 480 metric tons of cocaine.

“They went from being an urban legend to some sporadic seizures to a flurry in the last two years,” said an official at the U.S. embassy in Bogota. “Semi-submersibles are the transportation of choice for maritime drug traffickers.”
The story goes on to describe the discovery of a diesel-electric-powered genuine submersible on the lines of the Kriegsmarine's milch cow supply U-boat and hints that this is the smugglers' next logical step.

I'm wondering how long it will take for the Coast Guard to request SSNs as special-purpose "cutters" for its fleet. Given this latest smuggling trend, they would certainly be useful - and would go a long way both to reinvigorating a useful defense industry.

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