Ecuadorian security forces capture narco-submarine
By Dialogo October 31, 2013
Colombian and Ecuadorian security forces recently collaborated to capture a submarine that authorities suspect was being used to smuggle drugs.
During a press conference in Cartagena, Ecuadorian Interior Minister Jose Serrano announced the seizure of the submarine on Oct. 20, 2013. Serrano was in the city for the 82nd General Assembly of Interpol.
Serrano was joined at the press conference by Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón. Security forces from Ecuador seized the submarine under “Operation Progress,” Serrano said.
In a separate operation, on Oct. 28, the Ecuadorian Coast Guard captured a speedboat allegedly carrying 468 kilograms of cocaine about 1,800 kilometers from the port of Esmeraldas. Two boat operators were arrested, authorities said. U.S. security forces assisted in the operation.
In two separate operations, Ecuadorian security forces found a large amount of cocaine alkaloid at a port, and the Coastguard captured a speedboat allegedly carrying a large amount of cocaine.
Large drug seizures in Ecuador
On Oct. 30, agents with anti-narcotics division of the Attorney General’s office found 1.5 tons of cocaine alkaloid hidden inside a freight container at the port of Guayquil, Serrano announced through his Twitter account.
“We must eradicate this crime that is destroying us,” Serrano wrote. The interior minister commended the work of the investigators who found the drugs. Security forces seized the cocaine alkaloid, which was hidden inside a container of pineapples and was bounded to Belgium.
In September 2013, Ecuadorian security forces at the port discovered 30 kilograms of cocaine hidden inside a container of bananas. The container was destined for the Netherlands.
On Oct. 28, the Ecuadorian Coastguard captured a speedboat allegedly carrying 468 kilograms of cocaine about 1,800 kilometers from the port of Esmeraldas. Two boat operators were arrested, authorities said. U.S. security forces assisted in the operation.
During the operation, Ecuadorian security forces located the small submarine on the coast near the town of Limones, in the province of Esmeraldas. The area is near the Colombian border.
Ecuadorian National Police officers seized the submarine “in an operation that had the support of Colombia,” Serrano said. Ecuadorian police “received major technical cooperation from the (Colombian National Police) and the Colombian government.”
No one was inside or near the submarine when security forces found it, Serrano said. Security forces took the submarine to an Ecuadorian Navy base, he explained. Two days after security forces captured the submarine, Ecuadorian authorities in the city of Esmeraldas arrested a man and a woman who are suspected of being linked to the submarine, Serrano said.
Ecuadorian National Police are investigating whether the two suspects helped operate the submarine and whether others were involved, Serrano said.
“There is no doubt that this submarine was ready to be used by Mexican and Colombian cartels to ship cocaine and other illegal drugs ,” said " Hector Chavez , a security analyst at the University of Guayaquil.
The importance of cooperation
Drug traffickers probably used the submarine to smuggle drugs, such as cocaine, to northern destinations such as the United States, Guatemala, and Costa Rica, according to Pinzon. The submarine had enough space to “mobilize about 600 kilos of drugs in each trip,” Pinzon said.
Serrano thanked Colombia for its help in seizing the submarine and also for its assistance in tracking down several fugitives who fled Ecuador in recent months and tried to hide in Colombia. olombia for their assistance in the recapture of offenders who have fled to the neighboring country .
“We appreciate the support of Colombia and the police , especially in stopping dangerous criminals who who escaped from prisons in Ecuador ,” Serrano said.
In February 2013, 19 inmates escaped from a high-security Ecuadorian prison in Guayaquil, located about 420 kilometers south of Quito.
Cesar Demar Vernaza Quinonez, who is known as “The Entrepreneur,” was among those who escaped in February. The Entrepreneur is the leader of a gang, known as “Los Templados,” which collaborates with the Sinaloa Cartel, authorities said. Los Templados transports and protects drug shipments for the cartel, which is led by fugitive kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.
Colombian security forces recaptured The Entrepreneur in that country in April 2013. The Entrepreneur was extradited to Ecuador, where is facing drug trafficking charges.
Mexican drug cartels in Ecuador and Colombia
The Sinaloa Cartel and Los Zetas, both of which are major Mexican transnational criminal organizations, operate in Ecuador and Colombia, Ecuadorian Deputy Minister of Internal Security Javier Cordova said in an interview with ECTV, a public television station.
International cooperation is crucial in the fight against the drug cartels, Cordova said. “If we pretend or believe that we can successfully battle narco-trafficking by ourselves, we would be mistaken,” Cordova said.
Ecuadorian authorities have captured dozens of operatives from transnational criminal organizations in recent years:
• In October 2013, the Ecuadorian National Police captured 10 members of the gang Los Urabenos de Colombia. Some of the suspects were Ecuadorians who were working with the Colombian gang, authorities said.
• In August 2013, Ecuadorian police captured Eliezer Rodríguez Jorge, the alleged leader of Los Rastrojos, a Colombian organized crime group. He is known as “Palustre.” Ecuadorian authorities turned “Palustre” over to Colombian officials.
• In May 2013, Ecuadorian National Police officers arrested five Ecuadorians and four Mexican nationals who were suspected of being part of an international drug trafficking network. The police also seized 452 kilograms of cocaine and $276,567 in cash. The arrests and seizures were part of “Operation Aluvión.”
• In April 2013, Ecuadorian National Police alerted the country’s Coast Guard that a yacht in Ecuadorian waters was carrying a large amount of cocaine. A Coast Guard vessel chased the boat, which was named the “Green Onion,” which fled to international waters. The Ecuadorian Navy alerted the U.S. Coast Guard, which captured the boat in international waters near Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. When the crew members saw they were about to be captured, they burned about four tons of cocaine that were on the yacht, authorities said.
• In June 2012, Ecuadoran authorities found a small airplane with Mexican registration abandoned inside a hangar in San Pablo, in the coastal province of Santa Elena. The aircraft was probably used to smuggle drugs, authorities said.
• Also in June 2012, Ecuadorian security forces seized a submarine that was under construction, a light plane, a speedboat, and a ton of cocaine. The light plane and speedboat were undoubtedly being used by drug traffickers, and the submarine was going to be used for drug smuggling if it had been completed, said Ricardo Camacho Zeas, an Ecuadorian security analyst.
The Ecuadorian Coastguard discovered the submarine hidden beneath mud and shrubs on an islet between the Verdes and Escalante Islands, in the Gulf of Guayaquil, authorities said. The submarine was 15 meters long and four meters wide, with a capacity of transporting up to 15 tons of drugs. The submarine was about 70 percent complete, officials said.
The Coastguard intercepted the speedboat 12 miles off the coast of Canoa, in Manabi province. The boat was powered by three outboard engines of 350-horsepower each. The speedboat left Chiapas on June 7, 2012, and was equipped with modern communications equipment, a high-frequency transmitter, and enough food for several days. Ecuadorian security forces arrested three Mexican nationals who were operating the boat.
Ecuadorian security forces found the ton of cocaine amid rocks at San Clemente Beach, a few miles from where the speedboat was captured. The men in the speedboat were probably on their way to pick up the cocaine, authorities said.
The light aircraft was found abandoned inside a hangar in San Pablo. The airplane was registered in Mexico.
• In May 2013, a small airplane from Mexico crashed in Manabi province. Ecuadorian authorities found $1.4 million in cash on the plane. The pilot and co-pilot were both killed in the crash. They were from Sinaloa, Mexico, which is a stronghold for El Chapo Guzman.
Drug trafficking center
Organized crime groups do not produce drugs in Ecuador, but they move drugs produced in other countries, such as Colombia and Brazil, through the country, according to Chavez, the security analyst.
“Ecuador is not known for being a producer of illicit drugs , but because of its geographical position , international drug gangs make efforts to claim territory there and set up drug trafficking operations,” Chavez said.
It is not surprising that the Sinaloa Cartel is operating in Ecuador, Chavez explained. “That is one of the characteristics of El Chapo Guzman, he forms alliances with gangs in other countries,” the security analyst said.