A criminal transport and logistics crew has been nabbed by Spanish police with vehicles being readied for delivery to drug traffickers smuggling narcotics across the Mediterranean – a haul that netted both aerial drones and uncrewed underwater vehicles with potential payload capacities of up to 200 kgs.
The bust was the fruit of a 14-month investigation into narcotics trafficking from Morocco into Spain by way of the Strait of Gibraltar, which at its narrowest point is only eight miles wide. In a raid Monday, Spanish police turned up several consumer and heavier lift drones, as well as three underwater and semi-submersible vehicles that were being readied for delivery to and use by presumed drug traffickers. The craft were to be equipped with GPS navigational gear that would have allowed narcotics runners to pilot them using a computer or tablet from anywhere on the globe.
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A total of eight people were arrested in the sweeps, and charged with participation in organized criminal activity. In addition to aerial drones and the nearly completed underwater craft, Spanish police found a total of 13 vehicles – including trailers whose fake bottoms could hold as much as 800 kgs of narcotics – in an operation they’ve also linked to drug trafficking activity in Denmark, Italy, and France.
Drones discovered had been modified to function using 12 motors and power sources permitting them to fly maximum 20-mile missions. Like the submersible craft – which were said to be capable of carrying between 150 and 200 kgs. of payload – the aerial UAVs had navigational tech that could have been operated from any location smugglers chose.
With Spanish police having gotten good at detecting and intercepting drug traffickers using speed boats to try and sprint narcotics across the Mediterranean before being caught, gangs are now apparently turning to modified drones and underwater options to transport illegal hauls into Europe.
Last year, for example, authorities in Malaga turned up an autonomous UAV with a 4.35 meter wingspan and seven-hour flight capacity that was being used to ferry narcotics from Morocco.
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The turn to underwater and semi-submersed craft in Europe has precedents elsewhere. Earlier this year, a similar vessel was intercepted by the Colombian navy as it transported nearly five tons of cocaine toward Central America.
Spanish police say they believe the operation busted Monday had been working with drug traffickers on options for using aerial and underwater drones that would both lower their own risk of getting caught, and maintaining sufficiently large payloads to keep their profits high.
“They were making large, unmanned drones with huge load capacities that meant they could carry a cargo of between 150kg and 200kg,” a statement by Spanish police said. “Among other uses, this equipment would have allowed drug traffickers to transport large quantities of drugs across the strait of Gibraltar by remote control.”