Authorities say a submarine intercepted off Colombia's Pacific Coast was carrying more than a ton of cocaine bound for Mexico's Jalisco Cartel, though the details are scant and the route is heavily trafficked.
Using police intelligence, Colombia’s armed forces captured the semi-submersible vessel traveling more than 80 kilometers off the coast of Nariño department, in southwest Colombia. Three Ecuadorean nationals were arrested onboard, according to a military press release.
The submarine -- valued at more than $1 million -- was outfitted with a satellite navigation system and able to hold more than three tons of cocaine, according to Colombia's National Police.
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The vessel was routed for Costa Careyes in Mexico’s western Jalisco state -- the home base of the Jalisco Cartel New Generation (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación – CJNG) -- where it was supposed to land during the first week of September, the National Police said.
Police Chief Oscar Atehortúa Duque said that a cell of former members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia -- FARC), known as the 30th Front and reportedly led by alias “Mahecha," was behind the shipment. The group is among many ex-FARC cells that have come to be known collectively as the ex-FARC Mafia.
A remote cocaine production facility was also dismantled in an August 24 raid in the Río Colorado sector of Nariño. Seized from the facility -- which had the capacity to produce up to one ton of cocaine per week -- was almost a ton and a half of cocaine hydrochloride, 658 kilograms of coca paste and other materials used to process and package the drug, officials said.
Another ex-FARC mafia group, the Oliver Sinisterra Front (Frente Oliver Sinisterra -- FOS), allegedly operated the facility.
The Oliver Sinisterra Front is believed to operate in the municipality of Tumaco, Nariño’s second-biggest city and Colombia’s second most important Pacific port behind Buenaventura just to the north. The 30th Front is active in the municipalities of Mosquera, Magüí Payán, Olaya Herrera and La Tola in Nariño, according to authorities.
InSight Crime Analysis
While the suspected links between organized crime groups in Colombia and Mexico regarding the seized submarine are not yet proven, the intercept has again highlighted traffickers’ preferred use of the Pacific route.
Colombian authorities offered no evidence to back up the claim that the CJNG was the recipient of the cocaine payload, and it’s unlikely the three Ecuadorean men on board would have had that information to provide. Crews tend to be local fishermen occupying some of the lowest rungs of the drug trafficking chain.
What's more, the majority of Colombian cocaine smuggled by boat moves north via Pacific waters to transshipment points in Central America or to Mexico directly before entering the United States, the United Nations noted in its 2020 World Drug Report.
The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) found in its 2019 National Drug Threat Assessment that 90 percent of cocaine seized in the United States was sourced to Colombia.
(Graphic c/o UN 2020 World Drug Report)
Colombian traffickers have also increasingly moved across the southern border into Ecuador to exploit the Pacific route. InSight Crime’s in-depth 2019 investigation into trafficking dynamics there found that the Pacific route out of Ecuador is “largely supplied by cocaine produced in Nariño.”
The department is home to almost 37,000 hectares of coca crops, the second most in Colombia, according to coca crop monitoring data for 2019 from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).