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A soldier stands guard over cocaine seized off the coast of Guerrero. A soldier stands guard over cocaine seized off the coast of Guerrero.

Cocaine smuggling by sea triples in four years; boats run from Colombia to Mexico

US Coast Guard estimates that 2,738 tonnes of cocaine were shipped from Colombia in 2017

The amount of cocaine shipped northbound by sea through Mexican waters almost tripled between 2014 and 2017, according to estimates by the United States Coast Guard.

In the former year, an estimated 945 tonnes of the drug left South America on boats, many of which are destined for the Mexican coast to offload their cargo to crime gangs that move it onwards to the lucrative United States market by land.

The U.S. Coast Guard estimates that the figure grew to 2,738 tonnes in 2017, an increase of 190%.

A bumper 2017 crop of the coca plant in Colombia is one factor believed to be behind the upsurge in smuggling attempts, most of which are made via a well-traveled Pacific Ocean route.

Cocaine seizures are also up, especially off the Pacific Coast of southern Mexico, where authorities have intercepted several go-fast boats during the past year.

Between January 2018 and February 2019, the Mexican navy seized 10.7 tonnes of cocaine, an amount that accounts for just under two-thirds of the total quantity of the drug confiscated at sea during the six-year presidency of Felipe Calderón, who waged a war against Mexico’s drug cartels on land.

To detect drug-smuggling vessels, the navy has adopted a three-pronged strategy that involves the use of its own fast boats in addition to frigates and surveillance aircraft including King Air planes and helicopters.

Authorities also receive intelligence from South American and Central American countries about the departure and location of suspicious vessels, which allows them to better prepare for their arrival in Mexican waters.

In January 2018, a tip-off from the Guatemalan navy helped its Mexican counterpart to detect a boat carrying more than 900 kilograms of cocaine off the coast of Chiapas.

The smugglers threw the drugs overboard when a surveillance aircraft approached and the navy later collected the jettisoned cargo.

There were at least seven large cocaine seizures off the coast of Guerrero last year, including one of almost two tonnes in which an Ecuadorian citizen was arrested.

There were also two one-tonne confiscations off the coast of Guerrero, another of just under a tonne and three others ranging between 250 kilograms and 800 kilograms.

However, the largest 2018 cocaine bust at sea was the August seizure of 2.2 tonnes of the drug in the Pacific Ocean 278 kilometers southwest of Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca. Four Mexicans, three Colombians and a Canadian who were onboard the drug-carrying vessel were taken into custody.

Just over half a tonne of cocaine was retrieved off the coast of Chiapas in September after smugglers threw 17 packages of the drug overboard, while earlier this month a similar amount was confiscated from two vessels located near Huatulco, Oaxaca.

One crew member was detained during the latter seizure but the others escaped arrest as did those who jettisoned their cargo off the coast of Chiapas.

In addition to the maritime cocaine seizures, the Mexican navy has also confiscated other drugs at sea.

Last week, nine tonnes of marijuana, methamphetamines and fentanyl were seized off the coast of Sonora after three suspicious vessels were detected by the fourth naval regional force, which is based in the port city of Guaymas.

Source: Milenio (sp) 

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