Colombia Blocks Maritime Routes to Narcotrafficking

The Colombian Armed Forces curb operations from groups such as the Clan del Golfo that commit crimes on their coasts.
Myriam Ortega/Diálogo | 8 May 2019

Transnational Threats

A Navy patrol operation off the Colombian Caribbean coast resulted in the seizure of more than 1 ton of cocaine, on Berrugas beach, Sucre. (Photo: Colombian Navy)

In late March, the Colombian Armed Forces dealt another significant blow to narcotrafficking in three operations, resulting in the seizure of more than 3 tons of cocaine, a semisubmersible, and the arrest of three criminals. The Colombian Navy, with the support of the Colombian Air Force (FAC, in Spanish), the National Police, and the Office of the Attorney General, led combined operations in Nariño department, in the Colombian Pacific coast, as well as in Sucre and Bolívar departments, on the Caribbean coast.

According to the Navy, the drugs seized would be valued at $50 million in the international market. Authorities also estimated that criminal groups invest around $1 million to build a semisubmersible, which represents a considerable loss for narcotrafficking.  

Semisubmersible in the Pacific

Navy intelligence work and information from sources, which reported a semisubmersible carrying drugs that had departed from Nariño, led to the first operation conducted March 23. Units of the Pacific Naval Force and an FAC surveillance platform located the vessel after a six-hour search.

“We were really close but couldn’t see it, because that equipment is difficult to detect,” Colombian Navy Lieutenant Commander Juan Camilo Ocaña, commander of the Tumaco Coast Guard Station, told Diálogo. “At 60 miles west of Sanquilanga Natural Park, and thanks to cutting-edge technology equipment, we located a semisubmersible with three people aboard, on its way to Central America.”

Upon seeing the security units, the semisubmersible crew tried to sink the vessel by opening valves. Their efforts, however, failed. “There was a depth of more than 350 meters at their location. It would have been very difficult and expensive to bring it [the semisubmersible] afloat,” Lt. Cdr. Ocaña said.

Aboard the semisubmersible, the Navy seized 1,562 kilograms of cocaine hydrochloride and arrested the crew: two Colombians and one Ecuadorean. Naval units then took the vessel to the Tumaco Coast Guard Station dock so it could be searched while they brought detainees and drugs before the Office of the Attorney General.

“They were prosecuted for two crimes: navigating in an unauthorized naval artifact, and producing and trafficking drugs,” said Lt. Cdr. Ocaña. “The capture was made legal […]. At this time, they are being held locally until their situation is defined.”

On March 29, The Colombian Nay seized its ninth semisubmersible with more than 1 ton of cocaine and captured its three crew members. (Photo: Colombian Navy)

According to the Navy, the operation surpassed all drug seizures carried out so far in 2019 in the Colombian Pacific coast. By mid-April, naval units had seized 19 tons. The vessel is the ninth the Pacific Naval Force seized in 2019.  

Clan del Golfo’s cache

During an operation conducted March 28 in Cartagena Port, Bolívar, Navy units found 42 packages of cocaine in a container coming from Bogotá. Antinarcotics personnel, coast guard units, and dog-handler teams seized 1 ton of cocaine. 

“This operation was conducted with intelligence from the Navy that identified a container at [port terminal] Contecar,” Colombian Navy Commander Jorge Enrique Uricoechea, commander of the Cartagena Coast Guard Station, told Diálogo. “During the road trip, the Clan del Golfo contaminated it.”

Local patrol and surveillance operations near Berrugas Beach in Sucre the next day, led the Marine Corps First Brigade’s 13th Battalion to find 42 packages of drugs. The illicit substance was hidden in the swamp, within a wooded area.

“Criminals take advantage of these areas to hide drugs. These can be special hideouts, abandoned houses, or any kind of place,” Cmdr. Uricoechea said. “They hire security, two or three armed subjects, who wait there while drugs are gathered to be taken by speedboat.”

Naval units collected the packages and confirmed they contained 1,127 kg of cocaine. According to the Navy, the drug likely belonged to the Clan del Golfo, as it was labeled with logos similar to those from the Cartagena Port containers. Between January and mid-April 2019, the Caribbean Naval Force seized more than 12 tons of cocaine.

“We have intelligence agents with special networks throughout the Colombian Navy’s jurisdiction to anticipate these events, these new ways of smuggling drugs, storing, loading, and shipping toward Central America and the United States,” said Cmdr. Uricoechea. “We try to evolve, to be one step ahead of those criminals.”

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