Honduras Fights Maritime Narcotrafficking with High Tech
By Lorena Baires/Diálogo July 10, 2020
Honduras is fighting narcotrafficking and transnational crime at sea with cutting-edge satellite technology from the Maritime Information Center (CIM, in Spanish) of the Directorate General Merchant Marine (DGMM, in Spanish) within the Honduran National Defense Secretariat (SEDENA, in Spanish). This technological connection center collects, analyzes, and evaluates large amounts of data coming from tracking systems covering all activities over 226,955 kilometers of territorial waters, including both the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans.
“We know the location of any vessel in real time, and we provide support to police and military intelligence forces to conduct maritime interdictions when we detect any suspicious activity,” Honduran Navy Captain José Meza Castillo, DGMM spokesperson, told Diálogo. “We also provide details to identify vessels, including crew members’ biometric data and records of their movement at sea. [This] allows us to identify links to groups engaged in drug, human, arms, or fuel trafficking or other crimes.”
The CIM focuses its maritime monitoring, control, and surveillance efforts on identifying the modus operandi of transnational criminal organizations, mainly speedboats, leisure yachts, fishing vessels, semisubmersibles, and containers on merchant ships.
“Narcotraffickers use several methods to move drugs, [such as] leisure vessels or containers on high freeboard freighters,” Juan Carlos Rivera, DGMM director, told Diálogo. “They forge container seals to bring in suitcases with [up to] 300 kilograms of cocaine.”
For the most part, traffickers choose ships bound for the United States. “This method to hide products is carried out in the vessel’s country of origin, or in the ports where the containers are transshipped,” Jeovanny Ochoa, CIM security and defense adviser, added. “In some cases, neither the sender nor the recipient is aware that the shipment is used for narcotrafficking or illicit trafficking.”
Thanks to CIM data, in 2019 authorities seized three freighters with cocaine on board: one in Italy, with 650 kg of drugs, and two in Belgium, where they seized a total of 507 kg of cocaine.
“In 2019, we conducted 1,882 intelligence exchanges with strategic partners, including the Drug Enforcement Administration and Joint Interagency Task Force South, both from the United States,” Ochoa added.
The Honduran Navy complements this electronic intelligence work with its Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV) FNH-21 General Trinidad Cabañas, equipped with sensors and electro-optical surveillance and observation systems, surveillance and artillery radars, a heliport, and two unmanned aircraft, SEDENA added.
DGMM authorities are strengthening CIM’s operational capabilities in 2020 with technology for automatic vessel identification and tracking from other ships, aircraft, or ground stations, the Navy said.