Chilean Navy and Police Join Forces to Strengthen Port Security

By Dialogo
June 08, 2016

The Chilean Navy’s Directorate General of Maritime Territory and Merchant Marines (DIRECTEMAR) is bolstering the nation's fight against maritime drug trafficking with the support of the Investigations Police of Chile’s (PDI) Underwater Operations Team (EOS) by inspecting the hulls of international vessels arriving at domestic ports. Known as the “parasite technique”, the amount of narcotics attached to ships' hulls has increased “because it allows drug trafficking organizations to safely transport drugs to ports around the world,” DIRECTEMAR Commander Zvonimir Yuras Cárdenas said.

Commissioner Luis Díaz Valencia, head of the San Antonio PDI Anti-Narcotics Brigade, stated Chile's location makes it a narcotrafficking hub. “Due to our proximity to cocaine-producing countries, our nation’s ports are likely to be used for trafficking via this modus operandi."

Joint operation

DIRECTEMAR's Immediate Response Group (GRI) and the PDI EOS conducted their first joint inspection on April 22nd in the port of San Antonio, located 117 kilometers from the Chilean capital of Santiago. They searched the hull of the Western Baltic
, a vessel out of Manila, Philippines, that was roughly 200 meters long and 10 meters in height. Organized crime groups hide drug loads inside big vessels like the Western Baltic
that use the port of San Antonio. Naval and police forces selected the ship because it corresponded to a risk profile based on its journey prior to arriving at port. It reached Chile from the port of Callao, Peru, and had previously gone through a port in Costa Rica, which is another area prone to drug trafficking.

Using the "parasite technique,” drugs are attached to a ship's hull in a torpedo-type metal container, which is welded to the ship's structure under the waterline. When security forces inspect a hull, they study each section of the vessel that is underwater following a procedure established by the United Nations. First, the captain of the ship is notified, then security forces study the ship's plans to identify, in detail, the parts of the vessel that are underwater. Security forces then establish a dive plan.

In the case of the Western Baltic
, a team of six Naval and police divers conducted the inspection in 45 minutes. They were supported by the Maritime Authority of San Antonio's LSR "Arcángel" boats, a Zodiac, and equipment, including dry diving suits, and communication and underwater vision devices, as well as medical assistance.

An effective deterrent

Security forces did not find any drugs on the Western Baltic
. However, “conducting these inspections is a deterrent strategy for criminal gangs because there are cooperation agreements between countries with whom all this intelligence information is shared to support combating trafficking at the global level,” Cmdr. Yuras explained. The last time security forces found drugs concealed using the parasite technique was in the port of San Antonio in 2010.

This preventive inspection was the first and will be the only action unveiled to the national media because the work involves classified information and aspects of the operation are confidential. When security forces find drugs, the narcotics must be photographed, videotaped, and measured so they can be presented as evidence in court. Currently, security forces are focusing preventive inspections in ports in the country’s central area before expanding into the northern area to “prevent Chilean ports from being the victims of criminal organizations,” Commissioner Díaz Valencia stated.

DIRECTEMAR, also known as the Maritime Police, uses its 11 technical directorates and regional government offices throughout the country to monitor maritime labor and vessels entering territorial waters. DIRECTEMAR and the PDI Anti-Narcotics Brigade, which will establish an annual inspection plan, are scheduled to inspect the hull of an international ship in June.