Fishing boats are one of the latest trends in drug trafficking. From large commercial fishing boats to small fishing vessels; from the rivers of Thailand to the Caribbean, to the wide open Atlantic Ocean, fishing boats are being used more and more frequently as a means of smuggling drugs.
In Asia, the Mekong River runs between Laos and Thailand. The villages on both sides are poor, and small boats have traditionally crossed the river unstopped.
The Thai government has now started to track names of Laotian fishermen and traders, as well as tried to inspect boats docking on the Thai side of the Mekong.
Laotian traffickers, however, continue to move methamphetamine pills across the river into Thailand, where they sell for about twice as much as in Laos.
West Africa has become another new drug trafficking region. Coca is only grown in Latin America, but there is an increasing demand for cocaine in Europe. The weak states of West Africa make it an ideal route for drugs to be shipped into Europe.
The drugs, however, have to get to Africa. South American traffickers are using both large and small fishing vessels to ship drugs both into the United States and across the Atlantic.
The coastal regions of Venezuela and Colombia are largely unmonitored by the government, and there are many private docks.
Small 30 foot fishing vessels are usually equipped with three to five outboard motors, which allows them to travel at speeds above 60 miles an hour, much faster than navy or coast guard vessels travel.
They are also painted dark blue. At night, Customs, Coast Guard and naval officers say that they can hear the boats, but cannot see or catch them.
These small fishing vessels transport drugs from Colombia or Venezuela out to the open sea.
Using GPS technology, they either rendezvous with larger, commercial fishing boats, or they leave packages of cocaine floating in the ocean for later pickups. The large shipping vessels then carry the drugs across the open ocean.
Drugs headed for Europe are unloaded in West Africa. Drugs headed for North America are usually re-loaded onto small, fast fishing boats when they approach Caribbean islands or the Florida coast, and are transported ashore the same way they left the South American coast.
As always, U.S. and international agencies are trying to keep up with smugglers. They are currently developing boats which will keep up with the smaller fishing vessels, even with their additional outboard motors.
Even with the technology to keep up, however, it will be difficult to locate the boats, which are so small they barely show up on radar, if at all.
The pilots are skilled, traveling at night with no lights, and through open seas, including the dangerous waves. Thanks to GPS technology, it is easy for traffickers to communicate and coordinate between the large and small fishing vessels.
As long as the prohibition on drugs in the U.S. creates such large profits, local fishermen will be willing to risk their lives trafficking drugs.
The trafficking cartels will also have enough money to constantly remain one step ahead of law enforcement and military.
When USCG Cutters can keep up with the fishing boats, the cartels will make the boats even faster. Fishing boats, both large and small, will continue to play a role in the global movement of illegal drugs.
July 11, 2010