Smuggling tunnel

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Smuggling tunnels are secret passages used for the smuggling of goods and people. The term is also used where the tunnels are built in response to a siege.


Sarajevo Tunnel

The Sarajevo Tunnel operated during the Siege of Sarajevo as a passage underneath the no-man's land of the city's (closed) airport, providing a vital smuggling link for the beleaguered city residents. Guns were smuggled into the city and people were smuggled out. After the war, the Sarajevo Tunnel Museum was built onto the historic private house whose cellar served as the entrance to Sarajevo Tunnel

It features in the British film Welcome to Sarajevo. A similar tunnel in an unknown city, probably Belgrade, features in a dark Serbian satire of conflict, Underground.

Gaza Strip[edit]

Smuggling tunnel in Rafah, Gaza Strip (2009)

The Gaza Strip smuggling tunnels connect Egypt and the Gaza Strip, bypassing the Egypt-Gaza Strip barrier built by Israel along the international border established by the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty. The tunnels pass under the Philadelphi corridor, an area specified in the Oslo accords as being under Israeli military control, in order to secure the border with Egypt.

North America[edit]

Derby Tunnels[edit]

Elias Hasket Derby Jr.

In 1801, Elias Hasket Derby, Jr. extended the tunnel system in Salem, Massachusetts, in response to Thomas Jefferson's new custom duties.[1] Jefferson had ordered the local militias to help collect these duties, but in Salem, Derby had hired the local militia (later the United States's first National Guard unit), the 101st Engineer Battalion, to dig the tunnels and hide the spoils in five ponds in the local common.

This extension was funded by the Salem Common Improvement Fund, whose members included Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story; Secretary of the Navy Benjamin Crowninshield; Congressman Jacob Crowninshield; Senator Nathaniel Silsbee; lawyer Daniel Webster; Senator William Gray; Senator Benjamin Pickman, Jr.; and the London banker and JPMorgan Chase founder Joseph Peabody.

The head of customs, Joseph Hiller, was also a member, and Benjamin Crowninshield was head of customs for Marblehead, Massachusetts. Presidents George Washington, James Monroe, and John Quincy Adams might have walked in the tunnels as well. At a minimum, they visited many homes that were connected to the tunnels. John Quincy Adams dedicated the East India Marine Hall, which had four sub-basements and was connected to the tunnels.

The East India Marine Society Museum had many locations in town that were connected to the tunnels. The society became the Peabody Academy of Science with the support of Joseph Peabody, and the tunnels became part of the Peabody Essex Museum after it merged with the Essex Institute in 1992.

The Essex Institute — established by Edward Augustus Holyoke, founder of the The New England Journal of Medicine was also connected to the tunnels.

The tunnels were used by Charles Lenox Remond to move runaway slaves along the Underground Railroad.[citation needed] They were also used to transport illicit liquor during the Prohibition Era.[citation needed] The tunnels extended three miles from the town's wharfs to an underground train station built by the superintendent of the Eastern Railroad, John Kinsman. Along the way, they connected several homes, stores, and banks. Two large brick homes were built at fixed distances to conceal the purchases of bricks needed for the tunnel. Many large churches were made out of bricks for the same reason.

Tunnel under the first church in the country
Charles Bulfinch

Samuel McIntire fashioned the Federal style of architecture after Charles Bulfinch, who would become the architect of the Capitol. In both of these men's designs, homes had exterior chimneys that connected to the tunnels through watertight fireplace arches.

These arches and their flues provided not only a dry entrance to the homes but also a draw system up through the chimneys for the tunnels. Bulfinch connected his Looby Asylum, Essex Bank Building, and Old Town Hall to the tunnels in Salem. He would also build tunnels from the State House in Boston and the National Capitol.[2]


In early 2005, a group of Canadian drug smugglers took up the idea, and constructed a tunnel between a greenhouse in Langley, British Columbia, and the basement of a house in Lynden, Washington, which lay across the ditch marking the Canada–US border (the house on the Langley side was on 0 Avenue ("Zero Avenue"), which runs parallel to the border and is the baseline of Langley's avenue-numbering system). They bought the two properties and began construction work. Authorities were alerted when a neighbor noticed the large-scale construction work being undertaken in the greenhouse. On inspection, it was apparent that tons of construction material were entering, and piles of earth were coming out.

It became known within a short time by both American and Canadian border authorities that a tunnel was being built. Video and audio devices were installed secretly by customs officials both at the termini and in the tunnel itself. On July 14, the tunnel having been completed, the first packs of marijuana began going through. Officials raided the home soon after and arrested the three men. They then appeared before court in Seattle.[3]


150 tunnels have been found since 1990, most of them incomplete.[4]

On January 25, 2006, a tunnel was found on the US-Mexico border by a joint US Drug Enforcement Administration, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and US Border Patrol task force. The 2,400-foot (730 m) long tunnel runs from a warehouse near the Tijuana airport to a warehouse in San Diego. When discovered, it was devoid of people, but it did contain 2 short tons (1,800 kg) of marijuana. It was 5 feet (1.5 m) high and up to 90 feet (27 m) deep. The floor was made of cement and the walls were exposed clay, with lights lining one side, a ventilation system to keep fresh air circulating, and a water drainage system to remove infiltrating ground water. Authorities said it was unclear how long the tunnel had been in operation.

On January 30, US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents arrested a Mexican citizen, who was linked to the tunnel via the US warehouse, operated by V&F Distributors LLC. On the Friday before, January 27, immigration authorities reportedly received information that the Mexican cartel behind the operation was threatening the lives of any agents involved with the construction or occupation of the tunnel. US Customs and Immigration, however, pledged to protect them as best they could. Authorities believe Tijuana's Arellano-Felix drug syndicate, or some other well-known drug cartel, was behind the building and operation of the tunnel.[5]

On November 26, 2010, a 2,600-foot (790 m) tunnel was discovered linking Tijuana to Otay Mesa, California.[6] In the same month another tunnel was discovered between these two cities. Both tunnels were discovered by a San Diego task force and are believed to be the work of Mexico's Sinaloa cartel. Over 40 short tons (36,000 kg) of cannabis was found and confiscated between the two.[7]

An analysis of US-Mexico smuggling tunnels, the US-Canada smuggling tunnel, and the smuggling tunnels in Rafah, Gaza Strip, was completed by Lichtenwald and Perri as part of a transnational analysis of smuggling tunnels.[8][9] Lichtenwald and Perri outlined sources and methods for evaluating which tunnels are used by different populations in various parts of the world to smuggling contraband that does not threaten a nation’s security, as opposed to tunnels that smuggle contraband that do threaten a nation’s security.

Hybrid tunnels (tunnels that smuggle contraband that threaten a nation’s security as well as those that do not) are detailed.

In December 2012, a tunnel 3 feet in diameter and 100 yards long, with electricity and ventilation, was found near the Nogales, Arizona, port of entry.[10] Since 1990, there have been almost 170 tunnels found leading into Mexico, mostly in Arizona and California.[11] On February 14, 2014 another underground drug tunnel was discovered in Nogales.

The tunnel spanned 481 feet (147 m), or longer than 1.5 American football fields. The tunnel was being used to smuggle marijuana and other drugs into the US. Another 590 pounds (270 kg) of marijuana was seized after federal agents stopped a vehicle they saw driving away from the residence. Some 46 pounds (21 kg) of marijuana and 0.5 pounds (0.23 kg) of heroin were found inside the tunnel. Three people have been arrested in connection with the bust.[12]

United Kingdom[edit]

Many villages on the southern coast of England have a local legend of a smugglers' tunnel; the entrances to most of the actual smugglers' tunnels have been lost or bricked up.

Some tunnel stories turn out to be plausible, such as the tunnel at Hayle in Cornwall which really does seem to have been built specifically for smuggling but tunnels often double as a storm drain or some other functional channel, or else is an extension of a natural fissure in the rock as at Methleigh and Porthcothan[13] but tunnels and caches (both wholly excavated and formed by extending natural formations) are more commonplace where covert landings in areas with few sheltered beaches exposed smugglers to the attentions of the Revenue Men.

The Copperhouse Pool, Hayle

While many sites are rudimentary, extensive workings have been found which show evidence of skillful excavation, strongly implying the assistance of tin miners, doubtless the case in the recent example of extensive excavations discovered in 2008 when builders renovating a waterfront warehouse in Penzance took up hatch covers and found several tunnels, one extending some three hundred yards and emerging into the cellar of an 18th Century public house after passing beneath several roads.[14]

Beith in North Ayrshire was a notorious haunt of smugglers at one time, and legend has it that a tunnel ran from the town centre down to Kilbirnie Loch.


A 700-meter smuggling tunnel with a narrow gauge railway was revealed in July 2012 between Uzhgorod, Ukraine, and Vyšné Nemecké, Slovakia, at the border of Schengen Area. The tunnel used professional mining and security technologies. It was used primarily for smuggling of cigarettes.[15]


  1. ^ Salem Secret Underground:The History of the Tunnels in the City. Retrieved 2014-03-01. 
  2. ^ "". Retrieved 2014-03-01. 
  3. ^ Ken MacQueen (2 November 2005). "B.C.'s tunnel busters". Archived from the original on 2010-12-06. 
  4. ^ "4 sophisticated drug tunnels found on border". KCRA. Tijuana, Mexico. Associated Press. 13 July 2012. Retrieved 6 January 2013. 
  5. ^ "Drug haul in secret border tunnel". BBC News. 27 January 2006. 
  6. ^ "Second Mexico-US drug tunnel found in Tijuana". BBC News. 26 November 2010. 
  7. ^ "Mexico's army finds drug tunnel to Arizona". GlobalPost. 2012-07-10. Retrieved 2014-03-01. 
  8. ^ Lichtenwald, Terrance G.; Perri, Frank S. "Smuggling Tunnels: The Need for a Transnational Analysis Inside Homeland Security Spring 2011" (PDF). 
  9. ^ Lichtenwald, Terrance G.; Perri, Frank S. (2013). "Terrorist Use of Smuggling Tunnels" Check |url= value (help) (PDF). 2. International Journal of Criminology and Sociology: 210–226. 
  10. ^ "Mexican Authorities Find Smuggling Tunnel Equipped With Electricity Near Border". KILT (AM). Associated Press. 28 December 2012. Retrieved 9 January 2013. 
  11. ^ Billeaud (14 January 2014). "How tunnels are built, used along U.S.-Mexico border". KPBS. Nogales, Arizona. Associated Press. Retrieved 4 April 2014. 
  12. ^ "Largest-ever drug tunnel in Nogales found". Retrieved 12 November 2014. 
  13. ^ "Hiding places where smugglers concealed contraband". Retrieved 2014-03-01. 
  14. ^ Salkeld, Luke (27 February 2008). "Daily Mail". Retrieved 15 December 2015. 
  15. ^ "Slovaks find railway smuggling tunnel to Ukraine". Reuters. Retrieved 2014-03-01. 

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