Ecuadorian police pose atop what U.S. officials called a "game changing"submarine built by drug smugglers on July 2 near the town of San Lorenzo (map), just south of the Colombian border.
Unlike previous known "cocaine subs," which could dip only just below the surface, the illegal craft appears capable of diving as deep as 65 feet (20 meters).
Seized before its maiden voyage, the 98-foot-long (30-meter-long) fiberglass sub was big enough to hold six to ten tons of cocaine and six crew members. The remote swamp camp where it was built was outfitted for up to 50 workers, though only 1 was present at the time of the raid.
With a ballast system never before seen in a cocaine sub, the handmade sub suggests smugglers are rapidly improving on the more common, semisubmersible designs, which are already difficult to detect.
"It's obviously an eye-opener," said Michael Braun, a former chief of operations with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), which assisted in the seizure operation.
"There's been a lot of speculation," said Braun, now with Spectre Group International, a private security company. "But now there's direct evidence that the bad guys have the ability to build these things and put them into service."
(Related: Get cocaine-submarine pictures and facts from the National Geographic Channel.)