According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s report COVID-19 and the Drug Supply Chain: From Production and Trafficking to Use, the pandemic has greatly affected the methods criminals use to transport their shipments; there is an increase in narcotrafficking by sea, in semisubmersibles and speedboats.
“COVID-19 measures may have increased the risk of interception when the drug is trafficked by land as such shipments may now be intercepted more frequently than those trafficked by other modes of transport,” the report says. “The reduction in air traffic […] indicates an increase in maritime drug trafficking and a decrease in cocaine trafficking by land.”
Evan Ellis, research fellow of Latin American Studies at the U.S. Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute, told Diálogo that the strengthening of sea routes is also related to the number of recruits that narcotrafficking can employ to move their drugs over land in the region.
“The closure of borders to people and a reduction in international trade have decreased narcotraffickers’ options to move products with mules or smuggling operations, forcing greater use of submersible and non-commercial vessels,” Ellis said.
“The coordinated work that the countries in the region and the U.S. military carry out becomes crucial to confront the situation in Latin American seas,” Ellis added. “Coordination between countries is more important than ever […].”
Costa Rica, Colombia, and Panama are some of the countries that work strongly in coordination with the U.S. military to combat narcotrafficking at sea. For instance, thanks to U.S. and Costa Rican combined patrol efforts, authorities seized more than 1 ton of cocaine in the Caribbean Sea on May 23, while the Colombian Navy and the Panamanian Air and Naval Service captured a semisubmersible carrying 5 tons of cocaine in mid-February.
For its part, U.S. Southern Command launched enhanced counternarcotics operations in the western hemisphere on April 1. As a result, the U.S. Coast Guard seized more than 1,400 kilograms of cocaine on a speedboat in international waters of the Pacific Ocean in mid-May. In addition, the destroyer USS Pinckney, which sailed with a U.S. Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment on board, seized more than 2.7 metric tons of cocaine on May 16 and another 1.4 metric tons on May 14.