In late January, British, Spanish, and Italian authorities, in coordination with the Colombian Navy, seized more than 2 tons of cocaine in several Italian ports. The Colombian Navy’s thorough intelligence work, which also led to the arrest of one person, facilitated the combined operation.
European units found the drugs in several containers aboard two merchant ships coming from the Gulf of Urabá in the Colombian Caribbean. Authorities seized the cocaine in the ports of Genoa and Livorno, Italy, where the ships made a stopover on their way to Barcelona, Spain. According to the Colombian Navy, the seized cocaine would have been worth $164 million in the international market.
“This operation emerged from having monitored a group that smuggles mostly cocaine hydrochloride to European countries,” Colombian Navy Vice Admiral Andrés Vásquez Villegas, commander of the Caribbean Naval Force, told Diálogo. “This organization seems to be linked to the criminal group Clan del Golfo, here in Colombia.”
The criminal ring uses container ships in the Gulf of Urabá . Controlled by Clan del Golfo, the area is strategic to the control and trafficking of cocaine for having outlets to the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Despite the dense, hard-to-reach rainforest characteristic of the region, the Navy managed to successfully monitor the area.
“Our intelligence agencies found out as soon as ships were contaminated,” said Vice Adm. Vásquez. “We started coordinated work with police authorities from the United Kingdom, Italy, and Spain.”
Colombia signed many cooperation agreements with European countries allowing for intelligence exchanges aimed at countering narcotrafficking and disrupting transnational criminal groups. In addition, after joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in May 2018 as a global partner, Colombia is now closer to the countries of the Euro-Atlantic zone.
“Colombia operates with its intelligence units and collects information. If the result is of interest to other countries we have agreements with, we share that information,” said Colombian Navy Captain Federico Alberto Sierra Zuluaga, commander of the Navy’s Counternarcotics Task Force No. 73 Neptune. “Thanks to channels of trust and coordination with those countries, they can proceed to verify specific information to achieve common results.”
After six months of surveillance, the Navy’s intelligence units shared the information they obtained with the Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre – Narcotics (MAOC-N), and the Seaport Cooperation Project (SEACOP). Based in Lisbon, MAOC-N supports the fight on drugs transiting the Atlantic by sea and air into Europe or Africa. SEACOP seeks to strengthen cooperation against illicit maritime trafficking in the transatlantic route with the creation of Joint Maritime Control Units in countries in Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean.
“The information we send is accurate, and they [MAOC-N and SEACOP] trust it,” Capt. Sierra said. “They coordinate with European security organizations to follow up and seize the cocaine.”
According to information from the Spanish police, authorities intercepted a ship carrying 643 kilograms of cocaine in the Port of Livorno. Italian authorities also found 2,103 kg of drugs in the Port of Genoa. In addition, the operation enabled the capture of a person in Barcelona who intended to receive the drugs. “Thanks to the surveillance the being conducted and the traceability of the cargo, we will certainly see more arrests in the coming days,” said Vice Adm. Vásquez.
According to Italian authorities, the seizure is the largest made in their territory in the last 25 years. For the European forces, the operation was a success, thanks to the commitment of several nations.
“This is a transnational crime that doesn’t involve only one state or country,” said Capt. Sierra. “Therefore, there should be coordination between states’ security agencies, so they can conduct combined operations such as this one carried out with European institutions.”