The northern region of Santa Catarina state, in the south of Brazil, has the largest industrial fishing fleet in the country, with hundreds of vessels transiting daily to carry out fishing activities. However, criminal groups have been taking advantages of workers’ legal pursuits to try and conceal their illegal practices.
On July 20, 2021, the Brazilian Federal Police (PF, in Portuguese) arrested eight men who attempted to pass as fishermen. Upon boarding the boat, authorities found 844 kilograms of cocaine hidden in fishing nets.
“Federal Police operational activity here is intense, with constant patrols from vessels conducted by the Special Maritime Police Center [NEPOM, in Portuguese],” said Anelise Wollinger Koerich, PF chief of police in the city of Itajaí, where the eight crew members charged with drug trafficking were taken.
National and international trafficking
The seizure was the second large shipment of narcotics authorities found aboard a fishing vessel in the northern region of Santa Catarina in just over 15 days. On July 3, the PF seized 2.8 tons of cocaine in a boat navigating on the Itajaí-Açu River. This river leads to the Atlantic Ocean, and the drug was bound for Africa, the seven crew members allegedly confessed.
The criminals used around 30 tons of ice to cover dozens of waterproof bags containing the packages of drug. All the packages were found in the freezer, which is where fishes are normally stored.
The Brazilian Navy, through the Port Authority in Itajaí, supported this operation. During the Federal Police operation, service members controlled waterway traffic, specifically the flow of vessels into the river.
According to Chief of police Koerich, in addition to preventing and repressing drug trafficking, NEPOM in Itajaí combats environmental crimes, with frequent operations specifically aimed at curbing illegal fishing.
From south to north
The use of waterways to transport drugs is also common in the northern region of Brazil, especially in the Amazon, where, in addition to fishing vessels, hundreds of boats that transport passengers circulate.
On July 17, a woman was arrested with suitcases containing 18 kg of marijuana. Ten days earlier, on July 7, three men were also arrested with 28 kg of cocaine paste. Teams of the Arpão Base made both apprehensions during interdictions on the Solimões River. This is one of the main rivers in the Amazon, which is the area of operation for Arpão Base, a mobile facility where police officers and service members work together to combat human trafficking, drug trafficking, and illicit environmental activities.
August 2021 marks one year since the launch of Arpão Base. During that time frame, the base’s operations caused a loss of more than $19 million to organized crime in the state of Amazonas. A total of 4 tons of narcotics were seized on the Solimões River, in addition to 42 tons of fish and 79 illegal firearms. Authorities arrested a total of 192 people during operations.