Stretched resources see cases of ‘narco-torpedoes’ on the rise out of South America

Countries across South America are struggling to crack down on so-called “parásito” trafficking whereby metal cylinders full of drugs are being welded onto the hulls of ships by divers. The tubes – sometimes dubbed narco-torpedoes – are often painted the same colour as the ship’s hull to avoid detection.

Peruvian police have just busted a drug ring that used divers to attach cocaine shipments to the hulls of a number of ships. Among the 12 arrested were two Peruvian naval officers.

Similar tactics have been seen in ships leaving Colombia and Ecuador.

The problem facing South American authorities is a lack of resources with Ecuador, for instance, having just 30 government-paid divers at its disposal across eight major ports.

Three months ago a man was caught swimming in Ecuador’s Guayaquil port dragging cases containing 138 kg of cocaine, heading towards a vessel bound for Spain.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.


  1. This is nothing new – I can recall a narco-torpedo being attached to a reefer vessel (they were the favourite targets) which arrived from Ecuador into Antwerp in the late 1990’s. Nothing new under the sun.

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