U.S.-Colombia Combined Operations Deal Blow to Narcotrafficking

Authorities seized nearly 2 tons of cocaine in one day.
Myriam Ortega/Diálogo | 10 April 2019

Transnational Threats

The Colombian Navy recovered 17 packages containing more than 600 kilograms of cocaine in an operation in the Pacific coast of Colombia in late February. (Photo: Colombian Navy)

In a combined U.S.-Colombia operation, authorities seized nearly 2 tons of cocaine in the Pacific coast of Colombia, curbing the operations of a transnational criminal organization. Two Colombian Navy operations, conducted with the support of the Colombian Air Force (FAC), the National Police, the Colombian Army Intelligence Brigade, and U.S. Southern Command’s Joint Interagency Task Force South (JIATF South), led to the seizures carried out February 27, in Nariño department.  

“It’s impossible to fight the scourge of narcotrafficking on our own,” Colombian Navy Lieutenant Commander Juan Camilo Ocaña Báez, commander of the Tumaco Coast Guard Station in Nariño, told Diálogo. “We work remarkably well with the different intelligence agencies. During the two operations we conducted in the area, we had to switch between the FAC platform and JIATF South’s P-3C Orion.”

According to the Navy, the 1,718 kilograms of cocaine bound for the United States had an approximate value of $55 million in the international market. Operations, the Navy indicated, were conducted in areas where the Residual Organized Armed Group Guerrillas Unidas del Pacífico is active.

“It’s not easy to identify what group it is [that owns the drugs] because all these organizations work within a network,” Colombian Navy Rear Admiral Hernando Enrique Mattos Dager, commander of the Anti-Drug Trafficking Task Force Poseidon, told Diálogo. “These are groups coming from northern Nariño that manage to grow and process this drug, and then they move it to a different sector, where other groups work together to collect it and take it out.”

Maritime pursuit

Following intelligence work based on information coming from several security institutions, the Navy identified a suspicious vessel sailing on the Naya River, Valle del Cauca department. The Navy initiated the pursuit of the speedboat named Chaigón with coast guard units.

“We have an intelligence fusion center in Cali [Valle del Cauca department],” Lt. Cmdr. Ocaña said. “The head of Pacific naval intelligence is in charge of gathering information from different entities, the Army, JIATF South, human sources […] and delivering a final product to us, so that we can carry out successful naval operations based on that analysis.”

The operation took more than 12 hours and ended when authorities intercepted the speedboat 240 nautical miles off Tumaco municipality, Nariño department. Navy reinforcements, as well as FAC and JIATF South aircraft, made the maritime pursuit possible.

After a 12-hour maritime pursuit, the Colombian Navy captured three Colombian nationals and seized 1,037 kilograms of cocaine aboard their vessel. (Photo: Colombian Navy)

“We use Apostle- and Defender-type vessels, and FAC’s SR-560air platforms, which are aircraft with detection equipment for interdiction. These were crucial to detect the vessels and lead naval units to them,” said Lt. Cmdr. Ocaña. “We also used surface units from the Pacific Naval Force, sea patrol boats that were in the area.”

Cornered, the crew crashed the vessel against the Navy boats to get rid of the evidence. The mission shifted from an interdiction operation to a rescue mission to save the three Colombian crew members and recover the 1,037 kg of cocaine onboard.

“We brought them aboard, we secured the drug packages, and in parallel we pulled in units to support the logistics of it [the rescue] from Tumaco,” Lt. Cmdr. Ocaña said. “We brought [Marine Corps] divers, because unfortunately when the vessel overturned, a great deal of the stash sunk into the sea.”

Parallel operation

On the same day, the Navy received information about a possible drug delivery between a speedboat and a fishing vessel at some 120 nautical miles off Sanquianga National Natural Park in Nariño. With air support from FAC and JIATF South, the Navy led an operation to curb the transaction.

“The plane overflew the area and detected the speedboat jettisoning the drug,” Rear Adm. Mattos said. “They put a sonar buoy with the drug, in other words, floating buoys equipped with a technology to send signals that special equipment can detect to identify the position and then recover the drug.”

Authorities failed to capture the speedboat crew, but Navy units were able to recover 17 drug packages and the sonar buoy. Security forces brought the 681 kg of cocaine before the National Police Counternarcotics Directorate. 

“At this time [mid-March] the Pacific Naval Force seized more than 17 tons of cocaine hydrochloride in the Pacific coast of Colombia,” said Lt. Cmdr. Ocaña, who attributed the success to combined and interagency efforts. “We are starting the year, and we will keep improving […]. It’s a problem in which we all need to make a contribution to form bonds and combat narcotrafficking.”

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