Chilean Navy Works with Law Enforcement to Fight Maritime Drug Trafficking

Chilean Navy Works with Law Enforcement to Fight Maritime Drug Trafficking

By Dialogo
August 17, 2015

The recent dismantling of a group of artisanal fishermen who allegedly used maritime routes to smuggle drugs into Chile continued to show how the Chilean Military, police, and prosecutors are working together to fight drug trafficking at sea.

On June 7, a yearlong joint investigation by the Chilean Navy’s General Directorate for Territorial Waters and the Merchant Marine (DIRECTEMAR), the Iquique Port Authority, the Iquique Carabineros’ Drug Enforcement Police Unit OS7, and the Tarapacá Prosecutor’s Office culminated with military and law enforcement, capturing three suspects and seizing 14.7 kilograms of drugs.

Two men and a woman are accused of smuggling narcotics from Bolivia in small vessels between the coasts of Arica and Iquique, as they avoided police checkpoints on land in the northern province of El Loa, according to Iquique Assistant Prosecutor Guillermo Arriaza, who was responsible for the probe.

“In order to evade police checkpoints on land, drug traffickers are using sea routes, among other methods, to smuggle drugs into the country,” Tarapacá Regional Prosecutor Manuel Guerra said. “Generally they are smaller vessels, light, go-fast boats that can evade checkpoints and involve a very tight circle of people who have technical maritime knowledge that not everyone has.”

The Chilean Navy, through the 16 Port Authorities (DIRECTEMAR agencies) that guard the country’s 6,435-kilometer coast line, plays a key role in thwarting drug traffickers at sea.

“We function as maritime police, adopting all the procedures set forth in Law 20,000 on drugs,” according to Lieutenant Rodrigo Gatica of the Iquique Port Authority.

At the ports, Military personnel work with well-trained, drug-sniffing dogs to prevent narcotics from entering the country.

A successful operation

In addition to conducting checkpoints at ports, DIRECTEMAR also helps orchestrate long-term investigations of drug trafficking groups, including one that led to the June 7 bust.

The investigation started in 2014, when the Tarapacá Regional Prosecutor’s Office told DIRECTAMAR to look into the fishing crew after they learned the group may be involved in narco-trafficking. DIRECTEMAR instructed the Iquique Port Authority to locate the drugs, while wiretaps used by law enforcement officers revealed the group was transporting narcotics from Bolivia into Chile.

Upon learning the drug traffickers were transporting some of their loads on land, Naval Police requested the cooperation of the Carabineros Police Unit OS7 to arrest the suspects at Kilometer Marker 1745 on Route 5 North, where $226,362 worth of drugs was found inside two vehicles.

“The drugs had left our maritime jurisdiction, so we needed the assistance of OS7 to arrest the group on the highway,” Lieutenant Gatica said.

According to Iquique Port Authority Chief and Inshore Service Captain Juan Gajardo, cooperation between the Military and civilian law enforcement officers was crucial to the operation’s success.

“Since these crimes do not occur only at sea or only on land, we need the various institutions to cooperate if we are to conduct operations successfully,” Tarapacá Regional Prosecutor Manuel Guerra said. “Thanks to their rapid and effective coordination, these agencies were able to capture the suspects and seize the drugs.”