Smugglers' tunnel under US-Mexican border among the most sophisticated

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 November, 2013, 3:50am
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 November, 2013, 3:50am


A tunnel used to smuggle drugs from Mexico the United States is equipped with lighting, ventilation and an electric rail system, US authorities say, making it one of the most sophisticated secret passages discovered along the border.

Authorities seized 8.5 tonnes of marijuana and 150kg of cocaine in connection with the discovery, according to court records. Three men who authorities said worked as drivers were charged on Thursday with possession of marijuana and cocaine with intent to distribute. United States attorney Laura Duffy said they faced minimum prison sentences of 10 years if convicted.

The tunnel, which zig-zags the length of nearly six football fields, links warehouses in the Mexican city of Tijuana and the Otay Mesa industrial area in San Diego, California. The latter has many nondescript warehouses, making it easier to conceal trucks being loaded with drugs.

The tunnel was shut down on Wednesday night, before any drugs made it through undetected, authorities said. Federal agents had the San Diego warehouse under surveillance after being tipped off by an informant.

As US border security has heightened on land, Mexican drug cartels have turned to ultra-light aircraft, small fishing boats and tunnels.

More than 75 underground passages have been discovered along the border since 2008, designed largely to smuggle marijuana.

The tunnels are concentrated along the border in California and Arizona. San Diego is popular because its clay-like soil is easy to dig. In Nogales, Arizona, smugglers tap into vast underground drainage canals.

The tunnel is the eighth major passage discovered in San Diego since 2006, a period during which Mexico's Sinaloa cartel has solidified its hold on the prized smuggling corridor. Authorities said the tunnel closed on Wednesday was the first in the San Diego area that was found to be used for cocaine.

The passage was about 10 metres underground, 1.3 metres high and a metre wide, said Derek Benner, a senior US customs in San Diego.

In November 2011, authorities found a 550 metre tunnel that resulted in seizures of 32 tonnes of marijuana on both sides of the border, with 26 tonnes found on the US side, accounting for one of the largest hauls in US history.