The Gulf of Urabá, located in a banana-growing region of the northern coast of Colombia, extends from Cape Tiburón, on the Panamanian border, to the town of Arboletes, in the department of Antioquia. On average, 10 large cargo ships pass through its waters each week. Work, for the Urabá Coast Guard Station on constant alert to monitor 4,000 square kilometers of the nation’s maritime jurisdiction, is intense.
“Here, we have standing operating procedures with a force – a crew manning a vessel in the loading area of Port Bahía and in the southern part of the Gulf of Urabá,” Lieutenant Commander Diego Alejandro Gil, commander of the Urabá Coast Guard Station, told Diálogo. “In our maritime traffic control, we inspect boats coming and going from Turbo – river boats as well as oceangoing vessels.”
On September 5th, during one of these daily operations, Maritime Traffic Control detected a boat on its radar that was leaving the Bocas sector, heading north toward Panama. “We intercepted it, and during the inspection the officer noticed that they didn’t have a clearance document, boat registration or life vests – all of which are required for safe navigation,” Lt. Cmdr. Gil noted.
“The officers boarded the boat and noted that the deck had been freshly painted, as their boots were sticking to the vessel’s hull. They also observed that there was no load and little fuel,” Rear Admiral Juan Francisco Herrera Leal, commander of Task Force 73 Neptuno, told Diálogo. “The waterline in relation to the interior showed a difference that didn’t look right.”
Service members found a false bottom with several packages on the vessel and took it to the Coast Guard Station in Urabá. During the judicial process, officers identified the substance found as cocaine hydrochloride. “There were 203 kilograms of cocaine in 200 rectangular packages, a value of about $7 million,” Lt. Cmdr. Gil said. “The Colombian Navy crew took them into custody, and the narcotics were seized.”
More results for Agamemnon II
Throughout 2017, Agamemnon II, a military and police campaign to dismantle the organized armed group Gulf Clan, counted with other achievements as well. Thanks to Agamemnon II, the largest drug trafficking organization in the country, has been cut in half since 2015.
“This year , the Urabá Coast Guard Station seized about 3.2 tons of cocaine in its jurisdiction,” Lt. Cmdr. Gil said. “Different methods [to smuggle drugs] were used. One was a parasitic device attached to the hull of the ship in the cargo area where bananas are exported. Our divers found it. In another operation, we found 5,400 banana boxes that contained 1.8 tons of cocaine.”
Blocking drug shipments
Faced with such hit, narco-traffickers had to change their strategy. In the past, criminals navigated in vessels with large engines and a storage capacity of 15 cubic meters. Today, traffickers use boats with smaller and less powerful engines and a maximum capacity of 6 cubic meters. With these vessels, traffickers smuggle drugs closer to the border to limit their loss in the event of an interdiction.
“We’ve been conducting ongoing operational work in critical strategic areas,” Rear Adm. Herrera said. “This is a really important joint operation with Panama, the National Border Service, and the National Air and Naval Service of Panama, which strengthens our ability to continue to neutralize this problem.”
Closing off the sea to drug trafficking rendered important results. Among those, in late September, the Colombian National Police – through Agamemnon II – seized seven tons of drugs at a banana farm off the coast of the Currulao sector. “The outcome was very important from the standpoint of quantity because this year opportunities to find such a large amount of drugs concentrated in one place have been few,” Rear Adm. Herrera concluded.