The Life and Times of a Colombian Cocaine Submarine CaptainS

Gustavo Alonso was the captain of a cocaine submarine based in Colombia, until he was arrested at sea with 3.5 tons of coke on board. He soon realized that solitary confinement in prison was better than working for the cartels.

German weekly Der Spiegel interviewed "Alonso," who spoke on condition of anonymity for obvious reasons. Alonso served several years in prison, two of which were spent in solitary confinement. He had worked for years as a fishing boat captain, but when his wife became ill and needed a $40,000 medical procedure which he couldn't afford, an "acquaintance" offered to help Alonso out. After his wife's operation, Alonso was again approached by the man, who now wanted a favor in return — to pilot a narco submarine.

In Alonso's hometown of Buenaventura, a port city on Colombia's Pacific coast, if you're approached by the narco traffickers, you have little choice but to work for them. From Der Spiegel's report:

The drug gangs do their recruiting in the poor neighborhoods of Buenaventura, where people live in shabby wooden huts. In those neighborhoods, there is little work and only sporadic electricity and running water. The drug mafia controls such areas and finds its foot soldiers there.

A woman was murdered there a few weeks ago, and two others disappeared without a trace — an act of revenge committed by the narcos after a botched transport. The crew of a smuggling boat had thrown some of its cargo overboard while fleeing from the coast guard. A few days later, the police proudly displayed the confiscated cargo. For the narcos, the incident was an act of betrayal, which has to be followed by retaliation.

And besides having to worry about getting himself and his family killed, Alonso also had to deal with days on end at sea in a tiny, shit filled, semi-submersible vessel full of cocaine. "I was afraid when they showed me the boat," he told the magazine. "Even if you make it through the hatch to the surface, you're out in the middle of the ocean, without a life vest or a rescue boat." But at least they had tons of blow to pass the time! An underwater, weeks-long sniff off sounds like a great time, no?

The boat was divided into three sections. A hatch in the bow led to the cargo hold, which was barely a meter (3 feet) high. The crew had to crawl through the cargo hold on hands and knees, passing the packages of drugs, to reach the control station and the sleeping berths. Alonso positioned himself at the wheel, next to a GPS device for navigation and a radio. The diesel tanks were underneath the berths. The engine room, containing two turbo diesel engines, was behind Alonso. There was no light, there were no toilets, and there was barely enough room to stand up or lie down to sleep.

Well, it's doubtful that very much sleeping was going on anyway. According to the magazine, you have a one in three chance of buying coke that arrived in the U.S. by narco sub. And that, friends, is how your Friday night in the LES came to be. The whole story is well worth a read.

Here's part of a National Geographic channel narco sub segment from last year:

For further cocaine submarine stories, check out VBS TV's great narco sub piece.

[Image via AP]