On July 23, 2018, the Colombian Navy added a new rapid reaction amphibious landing ship to its fleet. The ARC Bahía Colombia was named after the bay in the south of the Gulf of Urabá. The vessel is designed to boost naval fleet capabilities with high-performance and shallow-draft capacities, and the ability to carry out maritime interdiction exercises in hard-to-reach areas. The ship will also increase humanitarian operations in maritime and riverine coastal areas, especially in the Pacific, where it was assigned.
ARC Bahía Colombia is equipped with two propulsion systems, located port and starboard. Each system consists of a propeller shaft transmitting power from the reducer to a jet drive system to guarantee speed and integration of the drive system.
“The propulsion system was chosen as an innovative feature,” said Colombian Navy Vice Admiral Enrique Ramírez Gáfaro, commander of Operations of the Navy. “As it does not use conventional propulsion, such as a propeller, the ship can approach coastal areas and carry out beach and shallow-draft maneuvers without problems.”
The vessel can reach a maximum speed of 9 knots per hour. At this speed, it has autonomy to travel up to 1,500 maritime knots for 20 days with 51 people aboard.
“It has a storage capacity of 530 cubic feet for fuel,” Wilson Álvarez, project manager at the Colombian Science and Technology Corporation for Naval, Maritime and Riverine Industry Development (COTECMAR, in Spanish), told Diálogo. “It can operate a 12-ton telescopic crane, a 90 kW emergency generator that can serve as a port generator, a desalination plant, a weather station, and a computer to monitor and diagnose engines and generators, among other features.”
ARC Bahía Colombia has great potential to serve as a deployment platform for maritime interdiction missions. It can increase the Navy’s coverage of territorial waters and allow for speedy deployment at sea for longer periods, something that was not possible before.
“These kinds of ships have been used in missions to effectively counter criminal narcotrafficking organizations, organized armed groups, and remnants of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia,” Vice Adm. Ramírez said. “[Now] we can reach areas, transport troops, and carry resources that enable offensive operations along the Pacific coast in areas that can only be accessed by sea as there are no roads, something that criminals use to their advantage.”
In addition to coastal navigation, ARC Bahía Colombia will be able to travel through rivers and tributaries that originate in the western mountain range and flow into the sea. The ship can also transport equipment and speedboats, and make landings in the area’s complex geographical conditions.
Bahía Colombia is the fifth vessel COTECMAR built and the sixth produced in the country in the last five years. In September 2017, a similar ship was delivered to the Honduran Naval Force, a milestone for the Colombian naval industry as an exporter of military products through technology transfer.
“The progress for construction of this type of better equipped ships with higher performance is the result of two key conditions,” Colombian Navy Vice Admiral Javier Díaz Reina, president of COTECMAR, told Diálogo. “On the one hand, having first-hand knowledge of the Navy’s operational requirements, by talking with the institution about ship performance; on the other, using that knowledge to build optimized ships.”
With ARC Bahía Colombia, naval engineers were able to increase the main and emergency engines’ power by updating control technologies. They also installed a weather station that merges with the radar system for an improved mooring system.
“This new and enhanced vessel will enable increased territorial control and presence along Colombia’s 807-mile coastline on the Pacific Ocean, where [operations] of narcotrafficking organizations don’t stop,” Vice Adm. Ramírez said. “The ship is essential for the Navy’s mission, allowing for better maritime control in areas where the main effort is required.”