Sea Trafficking Operation Busted Off Guatemala

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An investigation into a maritime drug trafficking operation revealed how the alleged criminals used a series of boat transfers to move cocaine from Ecuador to Guatemala, highlighting the challenges facing sea drug interdiction efforts in the region.

The investigation that followed the October arrest of four alleged drug traffickers — two Ecuadorians, one Guatemalan and one Colombian — revealed that the drug-smuggling boat had set off from the north coast of Ecuador with the Ecuadorians and Colombian on board, reported El Nuevo Herald

They met the Guatemalan at a pre-arranged point off that country’s coast, where they boarded his boat and navigated to another destination 150 miles away. When they reached that location, they received instructions to move another 500 miles, where another vessel gave them cocaine packages, extra fuel, and communications equipment.

On the way back to Guatemala, a US surveillance plane patrolling the waters between El Salvador and Guatemala detected the boat, and a Coast Guard helicopter forced it to stop.

The Coast Guard arrested the four men, and later found 700 kilos of cocaine that had been thrown overboard. The accused traffickers are currently in a Miami prison awaiting trial. 

El Nuevo Herald reported on a similar case, in which alleged traffickers set off from the same area of Ecuador, and met another vessel coming from near the Guatemalan-Mexican border.

InSight Crime Analysis

The use of several boats at various points off the Central American coast to coordinate the cocaine shipment — most likely bound for the United States — demonstrates the difficulty of monitoring sea routes in the region. Video from the news agency Fusion of a US Navy ship patrolling off Colombia shows how multinational anti-drug operations involving advanced technology are used to track and stop maritime drug traffickers.

SEE ALSO: Guatemala News and Profile

Monitoring sea drug operations is further complicated by cutbacks earlier this year to US Coast Guard interdiction efforts, despite evidence suggesting that drug trafficking groups are increasingly relying on both Pacific and Caribbean sea lanes to move drugs. If states cut the resources to sea interdiction, criminal groups will likely continue to exploit these routes to traffic drugs to the United States. The situation can be futher complicated by the use of semi-submersibles or submarines.

US anti-narcotics officials are struggling to close not only sea lanes, but also air trafficking routes along both coasts. According to one Coast Guard official, just one third of drug-smuggling boats or aircraft monitored by the United States on the Pacific and Caribbean seas were detained in 2013.

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