Operation Martillo Uses a Stiletto to Stop Drug Traffickers

By Dialogo
April 29, 2013

WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S.A. – Traffickers beware: You’re likely to be pursued by a Stiletto.
No, not the knife, a boat – a 90-foot long, 40-foot-wide vessel that reaches speeds of more than 50 mph and is filled with radars and computers and screens to track anything on water. And its unique, M-shaped hull and four 1,650-horsepower diesel engines allow the US$10 million boat to zip across the water while leaving just a small wake.
The Stiletto is expected to become even more of a major factor in Operation Martillo, a regional counter-narcotics mission that brings together Western Hemisphere and European countries to cut the flow of illicit drugs through Central America.
The Stiletto also has space to store an inflatable boat, which counter-narcotics personnel can use to get closer to vessels they want to board.
About 80% of cocaine shipments are moved via maritime routes. Nearly 90% of the cocaine that reaches the United States comes through Mexico and Central America, according to the United Nations International Narcotics Control Board.
Operation Martillo is led by Joint Interagency Task Force South, based in Key West, Fla., but it relies heavily on working with law enforcement and military agencies in other countries.
“All the nations along the Central American isthmus, the United States, European partners, Canadians, etc., have been working more closely than ever in my 30 years or so working this particular problem set, as a direct result of Operation Martillo,” said JIATF-S Director Rear Adm. Charles D. Michel in January, at the conclusion of the operation’s first year.
And what a year it was.
Launched in January 2012, Operation Martillo directly seized or assisted in the capture of 127 metric tons (279,987 pounds) of cocaine in 2012, JIATF-S authorities reported. Security forces also have seized 56 go-fast boats, six pangas, two motor vessels, two semi-submersible vessels, two sailing vessels, six vehicles, seven fishing vessels and 12 aircraft and arrested all those individuals who were operating those crafts, according to Michel.
A go-fast boat typically carries 1,000 kilograms of cocaine.
“Operation Martillo is designed to deny or significantly hamper the ability of the traffickers to operate in the littoral routes along both sides of the Central American isthmus and force them into the deep-water routes. We have not achieved that on both sides of the isthmus,” Michel said. “On the Caribbean side we have been able to change some of the trafficking patterns.”
Operation Martillo has carried its momentum into 2013, as the year already has been marked by major narcotics seizures.
• Panama’s National Aeronaval Service (SENAN) agents seized 1.475 tons of cocaine and arrested four Colombians, SENAN Director Belsio González said on April 23. The seizure – the country’s largest of the year – occurred this past weekend when authorities spotted a suspicious vessel off the coast of the central province of Veraguas. Officers chased the boat for several minutes before boarding it. The cocaine was packed in 59 bundles.
• In early April, U.S. law enforcement authorities arrested 103 suspects on April 3 in what was described as a “massive operation” against heroin and cocaine traffickers from the Caribbean into the U.S. state of Connecticut.
• U.S. and Guatemalan counter-narcotics forces seized more than 998 kilograms of cocaine worth upward of US$90 million in the eastern Pacific in early March.
• The Costa Rican Coast Guard seized 1.5 tons of cocaine after four crew members fled a boat to avoid arrest on March 13, Mauricio Boraschi, Costa Rica’s national anti-drug commissioner, said. Costa Rican officials have seized five tons of cocaine, eradicated 51,494 marijuana plants and broken up four narco-trafficking gangs so far this year, according to the Ministry of Security.
• On Jan. 4, the USS Gary, a United States Navy frigate, intercepted a suspicious vessel carrying 600 pounds of cocaine. Coast Guard officers seized the shipment, which had a street value of about US$22 million.
Michel, however, said there’s more work to be done.
“We have seen strategic shifts in trafficking patterns in the Western Caribbean,” he added. “In the Eastern Pacific side, we are still working on that. We have seen some shifts but on the Pacific side we have a lot more challenges than we do on the Caribbean side in significantly changing those routes. One thing I will say about routes outside of Central America is that we have not yet been able to sense significant shifts into other routes, for example deeper into the Eastern Pacific or to Asia, or through the Central Caribbean or Eastern Caribbean. Those routes are essentially the same as they were before but we are constantly trying to sense those routes.”