Colombian and U.S. naval units partnered to seize 2.3 metric tons of cocaine from a semi-submersible vessel and arrest the three-man crew off the South American country’s Pacific Coast, Colombian authorities said.
The seizure prevented US$71 million in drugs from reaching the street, representing the first time since 1993 that Colombian authorities seized one of the vessels carrying narcotics while a crew manned it, according to the Colombian Navy.
The fiberglass vessel, about 13.1 meters long and 1.99 meters wide, was intercepted 43 miles off the coast in the Eastern Pacific in an operation that involved the Colombian Navy, Coast Guard, an Army unit and the assistance of the U.S. Navy.
The USS Ingraham, which was deployed in March for seven months to the U.S. 4th Fleet area of responsibility in the Caribbean and Eastern Pacific, provided maritime and aerial assistance. The frigate, which carries a crew of 200, was deployed in support of Operation MARTILLO, a multinational operation that seeks to disrupt transnational criminal organizations by limiting their ability to use Central America as a transit zone.
The semi-submersible had been traveling from Sanquianga, a national park in the department of Nariño, on the Pacific Coast near the border with Ecuador. When agents seized the vessel, they discovered the drug shipment and turned the three men – two Colombians and an Ecuadoran – over to U.S. authorities.
The bust was significant because normally crews throw the illicit shipment into the water before authorities arrive. It was the first semi-submersible the Colombian authorities have confiscated this year, according to the Colombian military.
Colombia, one of the three principal South American producers of cocaine, seized more than 166 metric tons of cocaine last year, dealing a significant blow to criminal groups, including the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which has financed its illegal activities through narco-trafficking proceeds.
Those illicit shipments often are sent via semi-submersibles that travel near the surface and are capable of carrying tons of cocaine. Since 1993, the Colombian authorities said they have intercepted 83 of the vessels, according to press reports.
The seizure comes amid ongoing peace talks aimed at finding a solution to Colombia’s 50-year conflict with the FARC. Hope was raised earlier this month that those talks could help reduce the production of crops that fuel the illegal drug trade.
On May 16, the Colombian government and leaders from the guerrilla group said they reached an accord on how to combat drug trafficking as part of peace talks that are ongoing in Cuba. According to press accounts, farmers who are now growing coca and marijuana will be assisted in switching to other crops.
In a televised address, President Juan Manuel Santos said, “Imagine a Colombia without coca,” the plant that produces the raw material turned into cocaine.
“That is within our grasp if we implement these accords,” he added.