They say necessity is the mother of invention, these people sure were inventive.
Drug mules are a classic choice but they are a relatively high-risk operation, with small-time payoffs. Few drug mules manage to get through customs with more than a kilo or two of drugs – if that. And they often get caught. Not that that is of particular concern to drug merchants, but every drug mule that is caught heightens the risk of the exposure of the entire operation.
Cocaine and heroin are the big money-spinners, but drug smugglers also often try and get across borders with cannabis, dagga, and things such as pseudo-ephedrine, which is used in the manufacture of methamphetamines (tik or speed).
More large-scale drug-smuggling operations include the following methods, of which some are new, and some as old as mankind:
In fake breasts
A particularly shocking case hit the news in 2012 when a woman travelling from drug-haven Bolivia to Barcelona, Spain was caught with 1.5kg of cocaine which had been haphazardly implanted into her breasts, as reported by local paper El Mundo. She was rumbled when suspicious customs officials conducted an examination and noticed that there were no stitches in her surgical wounds, presumably to make it easier to remove the drugs at her final destination.
Packages in the mail. This presumably sometimes does work, otherwise people would not continue trying to get away with it. Drugs are often concealed inside things such as water pumps, electronic equipment, cans, foodstuffs, farming equipment. What drug smugglers do is to send a large shipment of legitimate goods, with only one or two loaded with drugs, in the hope that it will get through customs unnoticed. However, customs officials can trace organic material by means of X-rays. They are also skilled in spotting unusual things in the mail, such as a package that is lighter or heavier than the other packages supposed to contain the same goods. It isn’t always easy for customs officials to find either the senders or the recipients, meaning there's little risk for the criminals.
Counterfeit Candy: Several attempts have been thwarted in the past of contraband masquerading as sweets, often perfectly sealed in the original packaging and coated in chocolate, this isn't always enough to fool sniffer dogs, though, who can pick up the scent despite the smugglers best efforts.
The use of boats to do ocean drops. Many countries have large and poorly guarded coastlines, which makes drug smuggling by boat, or submersible vessels, an attractive prospect for drug merchants. Huge quantities can be smuggled in this way, and are either brought ashore at night, or dropped onto other boats in the ocean. Every now and then huge quantities of drugs wash onto beaches, presumably when a mid-ocean drug drop goes horribly wrong. These drugs are packaged in plastic and attached to floating drums. Almost R50m worth of cocaine washed up on Garden Route beaches (Hartenbos and Mossel Bay) one Christmas.
Canons or catapults. Border fences and guarded crossings pose an obstacle to those looking to shift a large amount of drugs by land . So how do you deal with that? You catapult drugs over the fence in the dead of night. Or you use a small cannon to get the job done. Many of these cannons are home-made from PVC piping, can be powered by a car engine, and can catapult about 13kg of drugs at a time. Some cannons can project packages as far as 120m across border fences, where they can be picked up by accomplices on the other side.
Hidden in Jesus There are several reported cases of smugglers preying on people's religious sensibilities by hiding drugs in messiah-themed merchandise. This includes R200 000 of Marijuana hidden inside a statue of Jesus and an even larger amount behind framed pictures of the religious figure.
Digging tunnels. Tunnels underneath borders have been a favoured method of smugglers for many centuries. It is difficult to dig the tunnel without attracting attention, though. Both the noise and the excavated earth could alert authorities. Exits and entrances to these tunnels are often cleverly concealed in buildings close to the borders.
Plane drops. Small aircraft are very frequently used by drug smugglers. They fly over borders and do drug drops to accomplices in the dead of night. Radar picks them up, but they are mostly back across the border before they can be apprehended. These planes fly without lights and are of course not able to request the help of air traffic controllers if things go wrong. This means that they regularly crash, which is when authorities find the drugs. A helicopter that crashed north of Guatemala City in 2003, was carrying 760kg of cocaine.