An alert about a boat headed to Cartagena Bay with cocaine hydrochloride aboard set the Colombian Navy on the go. A unit assigned to the 12th Marine Battalion started the search in the early hours of June 9th. In a joint operation, the Colombian Armed Forces found 200 packages of drugs in a boat whose one-man crew pretended to fish in the bay, off the Caribbean coast.
“We searched many places in Cartagena Bay and we interdicted a glass-fiber rowing boat,” Colombian Navy Lieutenant Colonel Ever Sánchez, commander of the 12th Marine Battalion, told Diálogo. “In the boat we found [four] glass-fiber containers with more than 200 kilograms of cocaine hydrochloride.”
The waterproof containers, parasitic devices, were meant to attach to the hull of the boat, a move the sole crew member had planned to carry with an underwater scooter. Authorities arrested the boat diver and seized the 203 kg of cocaine, which were brought to the Office of the General Prosecutor in Cartagena. The alkaloid is believed to belong to the Organized Armed Group Clan del Golfo, which has a strong presence in the region, said Lt. Col. Sánchez.
In another joint operation with the Colombian National Police on June 16th, the Navy seized cocaine in the Rosario islands, Bolívar department, along Colombia’s Caribbean coast. According to the Colombian Navy, units of the 12th Marine Battalion, with the support of Cartagena’s Coast Guard Station, found the drug hidden inside the false-bottom floor of a house, after conducting naval intelligence.
“In a raid on a house, we found 100 kg of cocaine hydrochloride,” said Lt. Col. Sánchez. Criminals planned to take the drug via speedboat to Central America, the Colombian Navy said.
The 12th Marine Battalion’s seizures—more than 300 kg of cocaine—add up to other successful missions carried out in the Urabá Gulf. “The 16th Battalion, with jurisdiction over the Urabá area, seized about 7 tons of cocaine [from January to July 2018],” Colombian Navy Lieutenant Colonel Sandro Alonso Gallardo, commander of the First Marine Brigade, told Diálogo.
“The intelligence, training, and logistics support from the U.S. government has been really important in our finds. In terms of intelligence, there is consolidated work and a constant exchange and supply of information,” Lt. Col. Gallardo said. “We also received military support to get additional vessels.”
Operations involve risky situations. “On one side, criminals have their own procedures and try to eliminate everything that comes at them; on the other side, weather conditions can work against us and hinder the operation,” said Lt. Col. Gallardo. “For example, we can lose men at sea. We must know how to deal with a boat overturning in the middle of the night.”
Cartagena Bay is a maritime inlet with mangrove forests and abundant rivers in the Dique Canal, which criminals use to their advantage. Service members analyze the terrain, winds, tides, and river currents to plan more effective operations.
“[Criminals] change the way to reach their goals constantly. Our challenge is to always pay attention to every scenario from intelligence to controls,” said Lt. Col. Gallardo. In addition to containers, parasitic devices, and false-bottom floors, drug traffickers also bury drugs in secluded beaches to ship late at night. “It’s essential to analyze the criminal behavior of groups and be flexible in response to the moves they make, so that we continue dealing strong blows to the structures,” Lt. Col. Sánchez concluded.