Mexico and Colombia Reaffirm Their Skills at Sea

Málaga Bay, in Colombia, was the setting for Operation Pacífico III (Pacific 3), with the Mexican Navy ship ARM Zapoteco participating.
Myriam Ortega Torres/Diálogo | 6 September 2017

Capacity Building

A formation is visible from the stern of the ARC Nariño. In the background, the Mexican ship ARM Zapoteco (left) and the Colombian ship ARC Valle del Cauca can be seen. (Photo: Colombian Navy)

Three Colombian ships, one aircraft, and several rapid response units met in Málaga Bay to carry out Operation Pacífico III. The Colombian Navy’s Pacific Fleet led the training with the participation of the Mexican Navy ship ARM Zapoteco.

“You have to make tactical formations,” Rear Admiral Luis Hernán Espejo Segura, the commander of the Colombian Navy’s Pacific Fleet, told Diálogo. “You have to remain within the stations on the maneuvering board assigned to you for exercises in which the ships have to navigate skillfully under various orders that are announced by the person commanding the task group.”

During the early July exercise, participants practiced maneuvers for weighing anchor, interdiction tactics, navigation in restricted waters, and naval weaponry firing. These complex duties require high levels of coordination and maneuvering, especially considering that the ships exceed 1,000 tons.

Common threats and shared opportunities

Operation Pacífico III is an international exercise led by the Colombian Navy’s Pacific Fleet for the purposes of improving monitoring and security at sea, standardizing procedures, and facilitating combined operations with the navies of other nations with interests in the Pacific. The exercise was held for the first time with Panama April 24th to 28th, the second time with Ecuador May 16th to 17th, and this third time with Mexico.

Operation Pacífico has prioritized holding these exercises to develop skills directed at tackling real-world challenges. “The struggle against transnational crime, security aspects of human life at sea, and aspects of conserving the environment [are] shared objectives that our nations have in the face of common threats but also shared opportunities,” Rear Adm. Espejo said.

In this respect, Mexico is a very important country in the fight against drug trafficking. Large amounts of drugs leave countries such as Ecuador, Peru, and Colombia, and pass through Mexico before arriving at their final destination in the United States. That is why it was timely to have a Mexican ship in the operation.

Mexican participation

“At this time every year, cadets from the Mexican Naval Academy set out on various Navy ships,” Mexican Navy Rear Admiral Cecilio Olvera Malagón, the naval attaché in Colombia, told Diálogo. “They conduct instructional cruises that allow the cadets to train and practice what they learned in the classroom.”

That is how the presence of the ARM Zapoteco in Colombian waters was leveraged to carry out one phase of the operation. “The ships have different flags, but they have to be sure of their ability to operate via mutual agreement under the coordination of a defined command,” Rear Adm. Espejo told Diálogo. “To be safe operating at sea, we need a common language.”

“Initially, the training trip aboard the ARM Zapoteco included just a formal visit to Málaga Naval Base,” Rear Adm. Olvera added. “However, through Rear Adm. Espejo’s initiative, it was proposed that we conduct exercises at the end of the visit.”

The crew of the ARM Zapoteco comprises 217 members, among them, 190 cadets. “It was very enriching for the cadets to have this opportunity to take part in exercises held on ships belonging to the Colombian Navy’s Pacific Fleet,” Rear Adm. Olvera noted.

Common interests

Operation Pacífico will continue to be held annually. That is why there are plans to boost the results of the exercises already held with Ecuador and Panama, nations with which Colombia shares land and sea borders that are patrolled by the Colombian Navy’s Pacific Fleet, whose jurisdiction covers 1,320 kilometers of coastline and 339,500 square kilometers of the Pacific Ocean.

Together with other nations that make up the Pacific Rim, Colombia is doing its part for the common interests of the region. “As a nation, we make up part of the Pacific Rim. Everything aimed at strengthening our relations and our capacities to work together at sea guarantees and preserves a key activity for our nations, such as international commerce with secure lines of communication, which is one of the responsibilities of navies throughout the world,” Rear Adm. Espejo concluded.

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