The rapid-reaction vessels will support Colombia’s maritime interdiction efforts against transnational crime.
The U.S. presented the Colombian Navy with five new 380X Defender interception boats and a 410 Apostle at the port of Cartagena, Colombia, June 20, 2018. The vessels will support maritime patrol efforts in the Pacific and Caribbean to counter transnational crime. Colombia expects two more boats by the end of 2018.
“The U.S. government-donated vessels will increase the Coast Guard’s effectiveness in the pursuit and detention of vessels used in narcotrafficking and other illicit activities at sea, while also guaranteeing human security and preserving the country’s natural resources,” Commander Javier Bermúdez, head of the Colombian Navy’s Coast Guard Command, told Diálogo. “In late 2016, top military officers of both countries started the planning and approval processes for the boats.”
The Defender, built by U.S. manufacturer SAFE Boats International, is a quick, rust-resistant vessel, equipped with technology to enhance its speed and performance and superior ability to make sharp turns at high speed. The 410 Apostle’s detection systems feature the latest technology. The boat’s superior operational performance adapts to the needs of Colombian coasts and seas, while its three engines make it ideal for high-speed pursuits.
“We are currently moving the units to the Pacific and North Caribbean areas. Some [boats] go to San Andrés, our island area,” said Cmdr. Bermúdez. “The allocation plan will conclude in August 2018. A week after this, we should get the vessels’ first results against narcotrafficking.”
The Coast Guard Command’s interception boat fleet will have 18 Defenders and 14 Apostles. Vessel distribution is based on maritime climate conditions in areas under the Colombian Navy’s jurisdiction.
“Coast Guard units are the cutting-edge technology that gives us integrated maritime security. They also allow us to control and monitor the sea to neutralize any criminal activity at sea,” Cmdr. Bermúdez said. “Today, terrorist and criminal organizations involved in narcotrafficking change and adapt to military forces’ efforts against them.”
According to Cmdr. Bermúdez, the technology allowed the Navy to obtain important results in recent years. In 2017, naval authorities seized about 180 tons of cocaine hydrochloride.
Maritime interdiction is among the main tools to keep drug trafficking from reaching international markets. Colombia conducts more than 56 percent of maritime interdictions in South America. Most of the cocaine reaching North America, 90 percent, comes from Colombia, according to a July 2017 publication from the Colombian Navy’s International Maritime Center against Drug Trafficking.
“The United States has been the most important partner for Colombia in the fight against transnational organized crime, through different instruments and cooperation mechanisms,” said Aníbal Fernández de Soto, Colombian Defense Deputy Minister for International Affairs and Policy, in a statement. “They were strengthened and perfected over time and have allowed Colombia to become an international benchmark today.”
“If we stick together, we can have very successful outcomes,” U.S. Navy Admiral Kurt W. Tidd, commander of U.S. Southern Command, told the Defense Writers’ Group in Washington, D.C., June 2018. Today, Colombia is “a modern, thriving, capable partner. The security challenges are still there, but they understand the challenges and they are taking the steps to continue to deal with them.”
Far from limited to narcotrafficking, cooperation tools and mechanisms also focus on terrorism, disaster response, and international operations and exercises. “This kind of relationship allows us to build bridges of communication. The joint combined doctrine creates security protocols to help and provide better security in our area of influence in the Caribbean and the Colombian Pacific,” Cmdr. Bermúdez said.
The Defender and Apostle boats are part of a larger support package from the U.S. government. Other examples are the International Coast Guard School, meant to develop maritime interdiction skills, and the International Maritime Center against Drug Trafficking, a research facility to study narcotrafficking at sea in depth. “[We seek to] strengthen the support of partner nations, such as the United States, so that we can get that comprehensive maritime security we want for the region through joint work,” Cmdr. Bermúdez said.