For 19 days, more than 600 service members from the Brazilian Navy, Army, Air Force (FAB, per its Portuguese acronym), and Marine Corps were engaged in patrol and naval inspection activities, training, hydrographic surveying, in addition to providing healthcare services. This variety of actions in a single initiative is a hallmark of Operation Celeiro, now in its second iteration. From March 13th to 31st, under the guidance of the 6th Naval District Command (6th DN, per its Portuguese acronym), the operation mobilized eight ships, two helicopters, and dozens of smaller boats and vehicles spread out along stretches of the Paraguay River and its tributaries in the states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul.
The naval patrol focused on a stretch of river that runs parallel to Brazil’s border with Bolivia. Twenty-five Navy service members traversed the Paraguay River from the town of Ladário, in Mato Grosso do Sul, to Cáceres, in Mato Grosso to monitor the enforcement of Brazil’s laws. The patrol vessel, Poti, which is part of the Mato Grosso Fleet Command, was used in this task.
“Navy patrols are performed on a regular basis by the 6th DN, averaging about twice a month. But, during Operation Celeiro we intensified this activity, which plays a significant role in controlling cross-border illicit activities,” stated Rear Admiral Luiz Octávio Barros Coutinho, head of the 6th DN Command.
The Paraguay River is one of the many tributaries that feed the Paraguay Waterway, which cuts through half of South America, from Cáceres to Nueva Palmira in Uruguay. The Brazilian section of this waterway stretches for 1,272 kilometers, bordering Bolivia for 58 kilometers, and Paraguay for another 322 kilometers. It’s no wonder that part of the Paraguay River is the focus of the 6th DN’s inspection activities. “These are locations within our jurisdiction that experience significant vessel traffic,” explained Rear Adm. Barros Coutinho.
During the operation, the team in charge of the naval patrol did not come across anything illicit. Of the nearly 280 vessels examined, 19 were issued notices, while three others were seized for violating the Waterway Traffic Safety Law. Unlike patrolling, naval inspections are more administrative in nature and seek to ensure safe navigation for all who use the river for leisure or transportation, in addition to preventing environmental pollution.
With Operation Celeiro, the 6th DN focused solely on the waters that divide Brazil’s territory from Bolivia. Operation Fronteira Sul, scheduled to take place during the second half of this year will be coordinated by the same military unit and will involve enforcement efforts aimed at Paraguay’s river borders.
One of Operation Celeiro’s phases was dedicated to training service members on how to retake territory, in the event of an invading enemy force. This activity is called a riverside operation because it takes place along the banks of the river, like an amphibious operation.
During the simulation exercise, a criminal faction is assumed to have taken over an area along the banks of the Paraguay River to engage in illegal mining, in addition to committing other environmental crimes. In this scenario, 40 naval personnel represented the enemy force, which had a patrol boat and seven other vessels, in addition to a helicopter.
The Riverside Task Force had the “mission of reestablishing control of the riverside, while also conquering the positions on land by the criminal faction,” stated Lieutenant Commander Marco Aurélio de Castro Farias, head of the operations section of the 6th DN Command. This group consisted of 560 service members, including 200 marines and 40 Army personnel. For the training, this team had four warships, 15 troop transport vessels, and a helicopter.
“During the last phase of the operation, we also had two Guardian boats from the Army’s 2nd Border Battalion, and two FAB Super Tucano aircraft, operated by Wing 5 pilots from Campo Grande,” Lt. Cmdr. Castro Farias added.
Participants had four days, from March 20th to 23rd, to overcome a series of challenges. First, a special ops team infiltrated the seized area to gather information and identify the faction’s base of operations. Paratroopers were also involved. At the same time, service members traveling aboard ships were busy disarming traps placed along the riverbed to prevent their progress. Once they reached a certain strategic point, the Marine group went ashore, traversing nearly five kilometers until they arrived at the position where the criminal faction had set up shop.
After a land, air, and water attack, the invaded area was retaken. “The results were very positive. The riverside operation enabled our personnel to further their training while carrying out procedures and tactics applied to this type of operation, in addition to promoting the presence of the Brazilian Navy in an important area of our jurisdiction,” Rear Adm. Barros Coutinho stated.
Improving navigation and health care
Operation Celeiro II also included hydrographic surveying and healthcare services provided to communities living along the banks of the Paraguay and Cuiabá rivers and their tributaries. The Caravelas Hydro-Oceanographic Vessel and its patrol boats conducted the hydrographic surveys using riverbed surveying equipment. These vessels covered a total of 90 kilometers. The results of this project will enable nautical charts – used by both the Navy and other ship operators – to be updated as guidance for river-based travel.
Health care was provided aboard the Lieutenant Maximiano Hospital Care Ship, which made stops at eight riverside locations. Navy physicians, nurses, and dentists provided care to 354 people, including adults and children.