File photo of packages of smuggled cocaine AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo

Drug traffickers 'using submarines' to ship cocaine to Europe

Cartels operating drug routes through West Africa may be using submarines – which can be ‘bought freely on the international market’, a UN official said.

COCAINE SMUGGLERS MOVING Europe-bound drug shipments through West Africa may be using submarines to evade detection, according to UN officials.

Alexandre Schmidt, head of the West African branch of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, said Latin American-dominated cartels are employing increasingly sophisticated technology in their shipments. He added though no submarines had been seized off West Africa as they have in the Caribbean, there was “anecdotal evidence” to suggest they were in use.

“We are not talking about military vessels here, but rather smaller ones which can be bought freely on the international market by anybody who has a couple of million dollars to spare,” Schmidt told a conference in Dakar, Senegal.

West Africa is now an important stopover point for gangs transporting cocaine from South America to Europe. Full-sized cargo planes are already in use to carry shipments, with one Boeing 727 landing in the Malian desert before being set alight in 2009. The trade has had serious effects on the region, with up to one-third of the drugs being consumed locally, Bloomberg reports.

A recent UN report revealed that smuggling in the area often exceeds countries’ GDP, with illicit cigarette trafficking alone generating $775million.

Several submersible and semi-submersible vehicles have been seized in South America from drug cartels using them to take shipments across the Caribbean. It’s thought similar ones may be in use in West Africa.

Watch: Colombian authorities discover 100ft drug-smuggling submarine, February 2011

- Additional reporting by the AP

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