A 14-month investigation into a one-of-a-kind drug operation led to eight people being arrested by Spanish police this week.
An anonymous criminal group has created bespoke air, land and sea vehicles to transport drugs to criminal organizations across Europe, BBC reports(Opens in a new window). Although the Spanish authorities found such aquatic vessels containing drugs in the past(Opens in a new window)those seized by police this month could independently transport 440 pounds of cocaine or other narcotics across waterways without requiring a human operator on board.
“This is the first time that this type of vehicle has been used, which operates underwater without a crew on board, called an unmanned underwater vehicle or UUV (unmanned underwater vehicle), known as ‘ underwater drone’,” Spanish police said in a statement. statement(Opens in a new window).
(Photo: Getty Images)
A video posted on the Spanish police’s Twitter account (@National Police(Opens in a new window)) shows one fully built submarine and two partially built submarines. Each appears to be 6 to 8 feet long with a gray-blue color. The body is rectangular with a square shape and tapered at one end to propel it smoothly through the water like a torpedo. On top are two rectangular cutouts and a large chimney-shaped cylinder.
Police also discovered a fleet of six aerial drones that can fly up to 18.5 miles, £135,527 in cash ($161,201), 31 pounds of hashish and 18 pounds of marijuana, much of which is stored in a car. The video also shows other objects the group modified to carry drugs, such as a surfboard with a secret compartment added underneath (called a “double bottom”). In total, police found 13 double-bottomed vehicles, including a tow truck which they intercepted on their way to Denmark.
Drones seized by police (Photo: Spanish police)
What are unmanned underwater vehicles?
UUVs have wide applicability as they enable underwater exploration without costly and risky human diving missions. UUVs have aided in marine research, military operations, and commercial applications such as construction surveys and pipeline inspections, reporting Inside unmanned systems(Opens in a new window). In May, the U.S. Navy offers (Opens in a new window)investing hundreds of millions in developing and building a fleet of UUVs.
An ROV operates off the coast of Venezuela. (Photo: Humberto Ramirez/Getty Images)
There are two types of UUVs: Remotely Operated Underwater Vehicles (ROVs) and Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs). In the case of Spain, the submarines were semi-submersible ROVs. They were fitted with GPS systems and could be used by anyone in the world using any internet-connected device, the BBC reports(Opens in a new window). In contrast, AUVs eliminate human intervention and are often pre-programmed to perform a designated task between points.
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Where were the drugs going?
Given the aquatic nature of the drones, Spanish authorities said they were capable of crossing the Strait of Gibraltar. The 8 mile stretch is at the southern tip of Spain, providing relatively easy access to Morocco. The North African country is a major cannabis producer, making Spain a key entry point for the distribution of drugs throughout Europe.
However, police believe the drones were intended for delivery to drug traffickers in neighboring France. The French police therefore joined forces with the Spanish police in the context of the investigation, which revealed the group’s many international links. They are believed to have provided ‘logistic services to all kinds of criminal organisations’ in countries including Italy, France and Denmark, although Spanish police have noted they still operate on a ‘medium scale’ .
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