The Coast Guard Is Making Moves To Catch South American Drug Vessels Before They Reach The Ocean

Audrey Conklin | Reporter

The U.S. Coast Guard has new plans to stop the advancement of South American cocaine-smuggling vessels a little closer to home, Business Insider reports.

Last month, the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Navy and Colombian navy stopped a go-fast vessel — a very narrow boat designed to travel at fast speeds and at low surface profiles — carrying nearly a half-ton of cocaine 600 miles west of the Galapagos Islands. It was headed for U.S. borders.

The Pacific Ocean between Central and South America is a highly active drug-smuggling zone. In recent years, however, smugglers have been moving farther away from shorelines and direct routes to avoid being spotted by law enforcement in shallower waters.

These lengthy, indirect routes challenge law enforcement efforts to prevent drugs from passing from one country and into others. For this reason, the U.S. Coast Guard is planning to stop smugglers closer to their points of origin in South American rivers before they make advancements to sea, where they are less likely to be captured.

In a talk with The Heritage Foundation, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft posed the question, “Why are we chasing them way out there, over 2,500 miles from where it left?”

“They’re trying to do a flanking movement around us,” Zukunft continued. “They’re coming out of rivers in Tumaco, Colombia. We need better policing by the Colombians in their riverine systems. [We’d] be happy to help them there. That’s where the precursors come up and the finished product goes out.”

Colombia is the only South American country with both Pacific and Atlantic coastlines. It also has a large river system that drug manufacturers use to transport their products outside the country’s borders.

Since 2013, the production of coca, the base ingredient in cocaine, has increased by 134 percent. In 2016 alone, there was a 52-percent increase in coca production over just one year, making Colombia the largest coca producer in the world, 80 percent of which is grown just two kilometers from a river.

Mike Vigil, former chief of international operations for the DEA, told Business Insider that the DEA is sending informants to Colombia “to take photographs and then provide daily reports … [on] the movement of those ships,” passing that information onto the Coast Guard, and “intercepting probably about five ships per month.”

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