In a remarkable maritime incident, a three-masted sailboat belonging to the Ecuadorian Navy successfully intercepted a low-profile vessel, or LPV, of the type typically used by drug traffickers to transport cocaine from Colombia to the North America. The BAE Guayasemployed by the Ecuadorian Navy as a dedicated training vessel, intercepted high-speed LPV in the eastern Pacific Ocean.
The incident occurred in international waters between Colombia’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and Ecuador’s Island Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which surrounds the Galapagos Islands, on October 22. In a statement, the Ecuadorian Navy confirmed that the LPV had stopped with its crew consisting of three Ecuadorians and a Colombian.
“The apprehended citizens and the LPV are currently being transferred to the [Ecuadorian] mainland to be handed over to the competent authorities, in order to carry out the corresponding legal procedures,” the press release added.
The service has not announced what narcotics, if any, were found aboard the LPV, but these types of vessels are widely used for drug trafficking in Pacific waters off the west coast of America. South and Central. While some accounts describe the LPV as a “narco-submarine”, it should be noted that this one does not operate fully submerged. There are now different categories of LPVs, or self-propelled semi-submersibles (SPSS), some more visibly reminiscent of real submarines, while fully submersible drug subs have also been caught.
In his explanatory video on the incident, HI Sutton, an author and underwater warfare expert, observes that the LPV “looks like a homemade motorboat, but runs extremely low in the water, making it hard to detect.
“The cargo, probably between 1.5 and 6 tonnes of cocaine from the footage released, is being carried in the forward hull, surrounded by fuel tanks,” Sutton explains. “The crew occupies the small cockpit aft, accessing medication through a tunnel. The three outboard motors provide reliable propulsion with built-in redundancy. These motors are ubiquitous in fishing fleets in the region and are therefore difficult to trace.
At the time of the incident, the Guayas was participating in a routine training activity. Over 257 feet in length, the vessel is a Spanish-built training vessel, launched in 1976 and based in Guayaquil, Ecuador. Externally, the design of this ship is reminiscent of the tall ships of the 19th century. Unmanned, the sailboat has a typical crew of around 120, including 80 cadets.
According The Maritime Executivethe Guayas set sail from Guayaquil on September 10, beginning a planned 70-day voyage to Peru, Panama and El Salvador. The same source notes that 147 crew members were on board, including a contingent of fourth-year midshipmen.
It is not clear if the LPV had been tracked long before its capture or if it was simply a find for the Guayas. According to the Ecuadorian Navy, other undisclosed units of the service took part in the action, which was coordinated with the Ecuadorian National Police and its specialized department in the fight against organized crime, ULCO, but no other details were given. was provided.
Either way, the fact that a sailboat managed to capture the LPV at high speed is impressive in itself. While the Guayas has an additional diesel engine, it relies mainly on its sails and its performance would be vastly exceeded by the alleged drug traffickers, whose boat was literally built for speed and stealth. This suggests that the LPV in question may have failed or may have been adrift for some other reason. It’s also possible that other lawsuit assets were also involved.
While incidents involving drug-smuggling vessels off the coasts of South and Central America are not uncommon, the involvement of a three-masted sailing vessel is clearly out of the ordinary. On the other hand, just last week Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso declared a state of emergency to combat drug trafficking and other crimes in Ecuador.
Following this decree, the army and the police must reinforce their presence in the streets of the country, Lasso affirming that drugs represented from now on “the number one enemy”.
While this anachronistic maritime encounter is unlikely to happen again anytime soon, it shows that even unconventional resources can play a vital role in stemming the flow of narcotics through these waters.
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