Guatemala Seizes Semisubmersible
By Julieta Pelcastre/Diálogo June 09, 2017From January 1st to May 10th, the Special Naval Force of Guatemala, together with the Ministry of Interior, carried out a set of forceful measures that resulted in the seizure of two vessels, a small plane, 2,000 kilograms of cocaine, and the arrest of 10 suspects, as part of their strategy against drug trafficking. Additionally, in the last 17 months, the Guatemalan Navy has seized 27 vessels from drug traffickers. “Currently, of the drugs that enter the country, 80 percent come in through the Pacific Ocean and 20 percent through the Caribbean Sea, [just] to change the transport method from sea to land. The largest narcotics seizures have been in the Pacific [Ocean], due to the connection that exists with South America on those coasts,” Vice Admiral Boris Castillo Cermeño, commander of the Guatemalan Navy, told Diálogo. “Guatemala’s geostrategic position has turned it into a key point for drug trafficking operations [coming from the south], headed for Mexico and the United States. The flow of drugs along the coasts of this country has increased,” Lizandro Acuña, a security and justice expert at the Institute of National Problems at the University of San Carlos in Guatemala, told Diálogo. According to the Guatemalan Navy, in 2016 the coordinated efforts of this elite naval unit detected and interrupted the illicit maritime traffic of 25 vessels and 7.5 metric tons of cocaine headed to the U.S. and Mexico, a relatively high figure for Guatemala. Unit members also arrested 99 people of different nationalities who were linked to drug trafficking. In this same time period, authorities in this Central American country seized 12.8 metric tons of cocaine. Low profile vessels Vice Adm. Castillo commented that illegal organizations use semisubmersibles or Tiburonera-, Eduardoño-, or colombiana-type vessels, medium-sized fast vessels propelled by 200 horsepower outboard motors, with a 5- to 10-metric ton capacity per trip on average. On April 22nd, during a maritime enforcement patrol, the Pacific Naval Command aboard the Guatemalan Coast Guard ship “Kaibil Balam” (GC-652), located an unnamed, low-profile vessel. It was an abandoned semisubmersible without cargo, crew, or propulsion engines, and it was partially sunk 42 kilometers off the coast between Sipacate and the Nahualete River, according to a press release from the Guatemalan Army. The 5-ton capacity semisubmersible had been abandoned in Pacific waters and had apparently been used to transport narcotics. During their inspection, they found the hull to be in good condition. Inside the vessel, there were hoses for the fuel compartments and filters for the engine, as well as supplies and drinks from Colombian manufacturers. “Thanks to the actions of the maritime commands and the Special Naval Force, Guatemala is, little by little, reducing the flow of vessels used to transport narcotics. This operational effort has also managed to increase the seizure of drugs and cash from these criminals,” Vice Adm. Castillo stressed. “We can’t deny these advances in the fight against drug trafficking. However, [these] structures have the transnational capability and financial resources to use any kind of vessel, even submarines so that the drugs arrive at their main market,” Acuña expressed. Elite unit at the service of Guatemala The best weapon that Guatemala has at sea is the Special Naval Force, an elite unit that operates both in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. The unit performs maritime security, naval rescue, and patrol duties previously conducted by naval commands. Its patrol duty goes beyond Guatemala’s 22 kilometers of territorial waters. This elite unit conducts joint operations with the U.S. Coast Guard and other international agencies for the purpose of dismantling drug transport systems that navigate along the maritime route used by drug traffickers. “The transfer of information and the instruction and training provided by the U.S. government contribute to strengthening security along the coasts where this type of illicit activity has been seen the most. We are also making a contribution to neighboring countries that are cooperating, such as El Salvador, Honduras, and Mexico,” Vice Adm. Castillo said. The importance of international cooperation Guatemala’s course of action against transnational crime is reinforced by Operation Martillo (Hammer), a multinational military force headed by U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM). The operation includes Guatemala, Honduras, Belize, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Panama, among other countries, in the fight against drug trafficking and organized crime in Central America. Official data from SOUTHCOM indicates that while Operation Martillo, which is just over five years old, has been in force, it has resulted in the seizure of more than 693 metric tons of cocaine and 581 vessels and aircraft, and 1,863 persons arrested, according to SOUTHCOM’s website. SOUTHCOM does ongoing training and keeps members of the Special Naval Force updated on various specialties, such as maritime interdiction, vessel boarding, the search of ships and people, electronic navigation, and coastal patrols, in order to have greater control and thus intercept drugs attempting to enter the Central American country. The lack of technologically sophisticated equipment is the main challenge faced by the Guatemalan Navy in order to have a more successful course of action. “We have some needs and limitations, as all countries do. It’s important to have good information and intelligence, detection satellites, air platforms, and rapid vessels to be more successful in detection, monitoring, and interdiction for the purpose of denying transnational criminal organizations the capability of transporting narcotics and other illicit merchandise by sea,” Vice Adm. Castillo concluded.