TWO Guardia Civil officers, David Perez, 43, and Miguel Angel Gomez, 39, were killed last week in the coastal town of Barbate after being deliberately rammed by a boat operated by drug smugglers.

But what are ‘narcolanchas’, the name given to the high-speed vessels used by trafficking gangs that were involved in the brutal deaths of the officers in Cadiz on Friday night?

Since 2018, narcolanchas – narco launchers in English – have been banned in Spain.

Civil Guards David Perez Carracedo and Miguel Angel Gomez González
The two Guardia Civil officers killed on Friday. Credit: Guardia Civil

The boats, which operate in the Strait of Gibraltar as a link between narcotic production in Morocco and an entry to the European market in Spain, are semi-rigid or heavily inflatable boats, normally weighing over 5,000 kilograms.

They are usually over 12 metres long (some have been found to extend to 16 metres) with the capacity to carry up to three tonnes of drugs.

The greatest asset of the narcolancha is its speed – the vessels have a maximum speed of 70 knots, around 130kmh, which is quicker than the boats used by the Guardia Civil. 

A siezed narcolancha. Credit: Policia Nacional

Morocco and Gibraltar are both home to vessels that can reach the same speeds as the drug traffickers, but Spain continues to lag behind after a new batch of super-fast boats bought last year were found to only reach a speed of 57 knots.

Narcolanchas often use up to four engines operating at between 250 and 450 horsepower each.

The powerful engines are also thirsty, collectively consuming up to 55 litres of fuel per hour, forcing smugglers to either carry petrol on board, modify the design of the boat to accommodate a larger fuel tank, or use smaller boats called petaqueros to refuel out at sea.

Driving a narcolancha is a lucrative business, too – skippers can earn up to €15,000 per trip depending on the quantity of drugs carried on board, making it one of the best-paid roles in the drug-smuggling world. 

A captured narcolancha in the port of Gibraltar.

The narcolancha used to kill the two Guardia Civil officers on Friday was 14 metres long, weighed five tonnes, and had three engines offering a combined 900 horsepower.

The vessel was also equipped with high-tech radar, radio, GPS and a night navigation system, allowing the craft to operate at all hours.


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