I've heard of drug smugglers using submarines, but wow they're getting a bit advanced...
so what would it take to accomplish that? an electric motor and a CO2 scrubber?
One fifth or one quarter of the world's billionaires are drug cartels. The issue isn't how sophisticated they can get when they can buy all the talent and equipment in the world, but what is worth their time and money.
Wow, that's very interesting. Do you know where I can read more?
Tangential: What's the closest we've gotten to creating an unstoppable vehicle?
Unfortunately other then checking Wikipedia for illegal trade I don't have any good references. Its impossible keeping track of illegal trade and the last major estimates made that I know of were over ten years ago. Nor are these just drug sales. These same criminal cartels are thought to make even more money these days off the sale of endangered species and what other illegal activities they're invested in such as illegal arms sales, slave trade, extortion, etc, etc, etc is anyone's guess.
My best friend in high school became a Navy Seal and spent most of his career in South America just watching these drug cartels from a distance, while they watched him right back. Often illegal trade is the only real economy these places have and even in Afghanistan the US has had to recognize and accept that opium is the only economy they have. Recently some in Mexico have credited all the drug money with preventing their banking system from collapsing altogether during the economic downturn.
The media is unsophisticated enough when it comes to understanding of military technology (even 19th century technology!) that it's all the same to them apparently. In the photo on the article, at least two of the three vessels are not submarines, but just semi-submersible boats with low freeboard, meaning they just don't stick out of the water very far and most of the boat is underwater. Most don't need any advanced way to get oxygen, since they aren't submerged and since they aren't submarines, they don't need buoyancy control.
The one cited that can dive to 30 feet? Probably just has a snorkel. It would have to have one anyway to run the diesels. The only way to stay underwater for more than a few hours and actually move, without snorkels, is nuclear power.
They have GPS? Wow, so did my last two phones. And the "sophisticated" one that has radar? Looks like it starts at about $1500 on ebay - few expensive yachts lack them. What I would be interested in though is what they do with the radar mast when they submerge it.
It's probably also worth noting that most major powers take a very dim view of uninvited foreign submarines operating in their territorial waters. Dim enough that they may consider it less of a law enforcement issue and more of a national defense issue.
Some years back, a Soviet Juliet-class sub was for sale on E-Bay.
I don't know about a quarter or a fifth, but there's at least one, using "extremely conservative numbers", Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman Loera, head of the Sinaloa Cartel:
What he lacks in (estimated) money (he's between 700 and 900th on the list) he makes up for in power (60th of 68, according to Forbes):
Frankly, I think that view needs to be expanded to include surface ships and aircraft.
The semi-submersibles have been used for several years and are still pretty effective given the size of the ocean.
The true submarine is a lot more sophisticated (and a very recent development), even if it's still more of a hybrid. It can stay just below the surface with a non-retractable periscope (non-retractable, because the structure also houses the snorkels for the engines). Except your "periscope" is actually two video cameras, one for daytime and one for night vision. It is a true submarine in that it can dive (to 30 feet as per the article), but it can't stay at 30 feet for days - it can just stay at periscope/snorkel depth for days.
Better pictures than the ones in the op's article:
The unknown is whether the drop in the number of traditional semi-submersibles is because of a drop in drug traffic, a switch to land/air routes, or because there's more of the more advanced submarines that we haven't been as good at finding.
Looks like most of them lined up were converted from cigarette boats, but the one in the lead looks like the bottom hull of a standard fishing trawler.
We've fashioned a lot of our own gear in the diving industry over the years. Usually just basic mechanical stuff (no subs). Some gear, however, is built onsite to spec for a particular job. Expensive in one way, but a lot cheaper than waiting around for some company to build thirty of them. Ugly, but functional.
Looks like these guys are doing much the same.
Separate names with a comma.