The Colombian Armed Forces delivered another blow to transnational narcotrafficking organizations, April 25, 2018. In a combined operation, Spanish authorities seized 9 tons of cocaine hydrochloride hidden in a container in Algeciras, Spain. The ship had left the Gulf of Urabá in Antioquia, Colombia, two weeks earlier.
Thanks to Colombian intelligence, the Algeciras port authorities were able to locate the shipment and make the largest-ever cocaine seizure in Europe and the largest drug seizure in Spain to date. The drugs, valued at almost $500 million, were hidden in 1,080 banana crates.
Siege with results
Once intelligence work and all combined operation protocols were completed, the Colombian Navy alerted the Spanish authorities of the start of the operation. The ship Lucie Schultle transported the container where the drugs were hidden.
“I’d like to thank and congratulate the Colombian Navy and the Technical Investigation Corps of the Colombian Attorney General’s Office, who, with support from Spain and other European countries, used our intelligence to monitor the container seized in Algeciras,” Colombian Minister of Defense Luis Carlos Villegas stated at a press conference. “This seizure proves that the Gulf Clan can no longer move large shipments of cocaine to international markets. Today, large shipments are monitored from the loading time to the moment authorities make the seizures.”
According to the Colombian Ministry of Defense, the confiscated cocaine belonged to a narcotrafficking organization associated with the Gulf Clan that has contacts in a number of European ports. The constant monitoring of the criminal organization produced significant results for the Colombian Armed Forces between November 2017 and May 2018, during which time authorities intercepted 20 tons of the Gulf Clan’s cocaine. The first operation was conducted in November 2017 in the port of Algeciras, and resulted in the seizure of 6 tons of cocaine. In March 2018, authorities seized another 6 tons of cocaine during an operation in Turbo, Colombia. Algeciras saw another seizure with 9 tons in April 2018.
“We have [created] new strategies, purchased modern marine surveillance equipment, and designed protocols to profile ships and export companies,” Admiral Ernesto Durán, commander of the Colombian Navy, told the press. “This allows us to marshal our tools to produce results.”
The Colombian Navy’s surveillance of suspicious ships is the first link to disrupt the narcotrafficking chain. The continuous process aims at striking the narcotrafficking hierarchy in collaboration with all relevant institutions and partner nations committed to fighting the illegal drug trade.
“Every day, more countries join the maritime fight. The European and Colombian networks are connected. There are no narcotrafficking cells that act alone. They all have connections. Legal investigations and intelligence monitoring enable us to strike the organizations directly,” Adm. Durán said. “The combination of several intelligence systems and our relationships with armed forces of these countries improve results.”
The Spanish side
Algeciras is a European port with high amounts of narcotrafficking activity. Strategically located in the Strait of Gibraltar, where the Mediterranean and the Atlantic meet, the port is well suited for the transit of large amounts of goods. Intelligence information from the Colombian Navy defined the combined work between both countries. Authorities then monitored operations of the Colombian exporting and the Spanish importing companies.
“After the shipment was seized, we requested authorization from the [Spanish] Office of the Special Anti-Narcotics Prosecutor to deliver the container,” Spain’s then Minister of the Interior Juan Ignacio Zoido said. “We completed the delivery in Málaga, where we arrested three persons related to the company at an industrial warehouse, for a total of six detainees—two in Lyon, France, and another in Algeciras.”
Villegas highlighted the international community’s efforts to join forces and achieve these results. “The Caribbean operations, in addition to the many we carry out in the Pacific in coordination with Mexico, Central America, Ecuador, the United States, Canada, and almost all European nations, demonstrate that we are well on the way to dismantling [these networks]. It is a powerful blow to narcotrafficking, which continues to face greater obstacles and inspections,” he concluded.