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The Hunt for White October

There’s a popular saying in the port city of Buenaventura : “Those who talk are carried away by the tide.”

So it’s understandable that Diego Morales doesn’t want to reveal too many details about why he agreed to undertake such a perilous mission. All he will say is that his sister owed money to the wrong people. And owing money to the wrong people in Colombia’s new cocaine capital is a good way to end up dead.

“I needed a lot of pesos fast,” says Morales, 52, a sullen-looking fireplug of a man with a scar over his right eye.

So imagine the relief when the offer came: 30,000 American dollars, half now, the other half when the work was completed, a mind-boggling amount of money for someone used to living on the equivalent of $5 a day. And all he had to do, he was told, was go on a fishing trip.

It was August 2007 when Morales was picked up in a truck and taken to a damp estuary on the outskirts of Buenaventura, a vast, tangled network of rivers and inlets bordered by dense jungle. He glimpsed men wearing camouflage uniforms and cradling assault rifles guarding something half-submerged in the muddy creek. Morales was expecting a fishing boat, so he was puzzled to see a rusty cigar-shaped metal contraption about 60 feet long and eight feet wide. Suddenly, it dawned on him what it was—a narco-submarino, the latest weapon in the Colombian drug traffickers’ campaign to smuggle cocaine into North America. Morales had heard the stories about fishermen who went on one of these deadly vessels and never came back.