Carrying out a coordinated joint operation within the framework of the Colombian Armed Forces Strategic Plan, the Colombian Air Force (FAC, per its Spanish acronym), Navy, and police units have seized half a ton of cocaine in Caribbean waters as they confront transnational organized crime. The seizure took place when Colombian authorities detected a go-fast boat that had capsized in rough weather. “After making contact with the foundering power boat, 17 sacks wrapped in plastic and one container filled with communication equipment were found. These items were taken to the Coast Guard Station in Cartagena, a Colombian port city,” Rear Admiral Juan Francisco Herrera Leal, commander of Neptuno 53 Antinarcotics Task Force, told Diálogo.
During their routine investigation authorities found that the illegal shipment contained cocaine hydrochloride and that it belonged to a criminal group known as the Gulf Clan, a cell that frequents this route to ferry drugs to Central American and Caribbean countries en route to the United States and Europe. The half-ton seized has a market value of more than $30 million on the international market, reported the Colombian antinarcotics force.
Modified aircraft and versatile crew
The boat was detected by an SR-560 airplane from the FAC’s 3rd Combat Air Command and by aircraft attached to the Caribbean Naval Air Group. “This [SR-560] is a specialized aircraft outfitted with search and tracking equipment that has been modified for these kinds of operations into a versatile craft capable of very high as well as low speeds, and of remaining at one location for a considerable amount of time in order to carry out interceptions,” said Colonel Alexander García Agudelo of the 3rd Combat Air Command. “These aircraft are manned by crews who are specially trained to direct Colombian Navy fast boats, or those of other nations, out to the illegal vessels.”
“At present, we have three routes along the Caribbean coast that are used by criminals for drug trafficking. The southern route is without a doubt the easiest one, for its proximity to Panama. The central route is used by vessels departing from the cities of Cartagena, Barranquilla, and Coveñas. And the northern route is used by power boats setting out from Santa Marta and La Guajira,” Rear Adm. Herrera reported. “We made this seizure at one of the interdiction checkpoints for the northern and central exit routes.”
Boats with fewer drugs
A large portion of Colombian water interdiction is conducted using go-fast boats, which are the type most used by criminal organizations for narcotics trafficking. These boats measure 10 meters in length and use two or three outboard motors of 200 horsepower each, enabling them to reach speeds of up to 50 knots, depending on sea conditions. Using these boats, criminals can travel on the high seas for 36 hours nonstop. They generally carry half- or one-ton drug loads and an average of 25 55-gallon fuel tanks as the engines require a great deal of fuel.
“We managed to reduce the number of drugs being transported in these boats in the months of January, February, and March of this year , compared with the corresponding period over the last three years,” said Rear Adm. Herrera. “Before, we would seize 1.5 tons per boat on average; but this year the numbers have changed. The shipments don’t exceed 400 or 500 kilograms.”
As a result of the successful interdictions performed by Colombia’s security forces, the boats now carry less contraband. So far this year, the Colombian authorities have seized 11.2 tons of drugs while dismantling major crime syndicates through the criminal prosecutions relating to those seizures.
Greater monitoring of ports
In their continuing fight against crime, Colombia’s antinarcotics forces have decided to ramp up monitoring of Caribbean coast ports. During 2015 and 2016, 27 tons of drugs reached the European Union in merchant ship containers, which were seized by local authorities. Colombia’s security forces calculate that up to 80 tons of narcotics may have traveled along this route. For that reason, the Colombian Navy is working with the antinarcotics and port police in a joint interagency effort coordinated by Colombia’s Office of the Attorney General and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency to reinforce port monitoring.
“We are in an ongoing struggle to achieve our goal of preventing the trafficking of narcotics out of Colombia. This crime is fueling instability in our country. We are working to refine this system involving the participation of government agencies such as the Colombian Armed Forces, police agencies, and agencies from other countries that we have accords with, such as the United States and Central American and Caribbean countries. Through this domestic and international synergy we hope to stamp out this scourge,” Col. García told Diálogo.