Honduras Bolsters Navy Fleet
By Julieta Pelcastre/Diálogo December 20, 2016The Honduran Navy will incorporate one amphibious landing craft to its fleet to fight drug trafficking in the nation’s territorial waters, and to provide humanitarian aid in the event of a natural disaster. The Logistical Support and Transport Vessel (BALC, per its Spanish acronym), will be developed and built by the Science and Technology Corporation for Naval Maritime and Riverine Development (COTECMAR, per its Spanish acronym) in Cartagena. COTECMAR is the shipyard assigned to the Colombian Navy. For the last 16 years, it has designed and built the vessels the Colombian Navy has added to its fleet. The ship “will be ready to set sail from Cartagena, Colombia, to Puerto Cortés, Honduras, on November 1, 2017,” Vice Admiral Jorge Enrique Carreño Moreno, president of COTECMAR, told Diálogo. Honduras will invest $13.5 million to build the craft. Construction is expected to begin in 2017. Security for all The Colombian and Honduran governments have been cooperating on security and defense issues for several years. The Colombian Navy “has offered its support not only in operations, intelligence and training, but also with all of its experience acquired through technological advancements,” Vice Adm. Carreño said. Honduras signed the contract to build the BALC in Tegucigalpa on November 21st to bolster cooperation in the areas of naval industry related to shipbuilding, logistical support, goods and services, and technology transfer. With this vessel, “We will reach vulnerable Honduran populations more easily and frequently,” said Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández, after signing the procurement contract. “What we Hondurans are doing is investing resources in protecting and reinforcing our naval security capacities; this ship is one of our most important reinforcements.” “Our region is very prone to drug trafficking, tropical storms, and hurricanes; on that account, (this ship) is a good acquisition,” noted Carlos Flores Paguada, an independent analyst on Honduran security issues. This amphibious landing vessel will be capable of conducting humanitarian aid operations in river and coastal areas, and it will also be capable of transporting cargo on its deck and via cranes, forklifts, and tanker vehicles, for fuel and water transportation. It will also transport troops for conducting maritime- and land-based security operations in the country. Colombia has four such vessels in operation, which have been used in important missions, such as delivering 31 tons of humanitarian aid to the victims of the 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck Ecuador on April 16th. “In Colombia's Pacific region we are engaged in a serious fight against drug trafficking, which is where the ship [amphibious landing craft] can transport high-speed vessels for maritime interdiction,” said Vice Adm. Carreño Along with the rest of Central America, Honduras is exposed to the dynamic activities of transnational criminal organizations. The new naval logistics capacity will allow the Navy to bolster its security in the region of La Mosquitia, considered a difficult area to access and a key point for drug traffickers who smuggle drugs from South America to the United States. The Navy will also boost its presence in the Swan Islands, three small islands located 250 kilometers off the Atlantic coast of Honduras, to protect the indigenous fauna and reefs, “and also the territorial waters of Honduras to prevent them from being used for international drug trafficking coming from South America,” Flores said. Access to those islands is allowed only to people and institutions that have a scientific or environmental protection purpose. “Nowadays, the Honduran authorities have achieved a significant reduction in drug trafficking — we can't deny that,” Flores added. Thirty members of the Navy will be trained on how to most effectively operate this new vessel at the Colombian Navy's International Coast Guard School. The Honduran officers will then sail the amphibious landing craft back home. The agreement for this naval project includes graduate level training through Admiral Padilla Naval Academy in Cartagena. Over the two-year course, three Honduran officers will complete their studies for the Master in Naval Engineering. “This is the path to take, because the vessel and the technology are of no use if there aren’t personnel with the sufficient technical and operational training and a group of engineering officers with high-level knowledge who can address the main issues that could affect the ship’s (30- to 40-year) useful life cycle,” Vice Adm. Carreño said. The Colombian Navy has strengthened its regional and international cooperation in the defense and technology sector. COTECMAR will hold the 7th International Naval Fair in Cartagena March 15th-17th to drive the development of the naval, maritime, and riverine industry, and to strengthen cooperation between the navies of the region. During the international event, COTECMAR hopes to announce the advancements it has made with other countries in the region with which it maintains operational relations for ship design and building. Technological cooperation International crime demands effective cooperation between states. “The technology arena is very important for interoperability and is a key to fighting this scourge. Honduras is an example of this,” Vice Adm. Carreño said. “One of the biggest challenges facing the Honduran Navy is increasing surveillance to prevent drug trafficking from resorting to piracy along our shores, as has happened in other cases, in which pirates take advantage of sea areas and fishing fleets,” said Flores. “Just as we are making security changes in our country, I am sure that you [Honduras] are doing so too,” said Colombian Vice Minister of Defense José Javier Pérez after signing the procurement contract for the support vessel. “We are prepared to continue our contribution to Honduras, and we don't want your country to suffer what Colombia has gone through,” Pérez concluded.