One of the threat of maritime security is human and drug smuggling across maritime borders. This is particularly important because terrorists may use similar pathways to sneak illegal weapons through the border or to deliver a dirty bomb to seaports.
There has been a noticeable growth in maritime criminal activity across the Indian Ocean region, in particular drug trafficking by sea. Indian Ocean states have seized over 2.5 tons of heroin between 2016-2017. India seized 1.5 tons of heroin in a single interdiction of a vessel off the coast of Gujarat in July 2017. It is, however, not only the larger states that are carrying out significant interdictions.
Smaller island states, such as Sri Lanka, have also made significant seizures. In March 2016, 101 kilograms of heroin were seized on a dhow off the southern coast. Sri Lanka holds the record for the largest cocaine seizure in South Asia with 928 kilograms of cocaine seized in December 2016.
There is evidence that, at a minimum, 2.5 million migrants were smuggled for an economic return of US$5.5-7 billion in 2016. Those traveling in containers are usually discovered to be traveling under miserable conditions. In 2001, Irish Police found a cargo container with 8 dead and 5 sick immigrants.
Smugglers purchase off the shelf solutions to transport illicit drugs, such as go-fast boats and communication equipment, but also invest in developing their own artefacts, such as makeshift submersible and semisubmersible artefacts, narcosubmarines.
Technology to fight human and drug smuggling
US Navy has been using a blimp or aerostat. The camera sensors underneath can pick up planes that try and smuggle drugs by flying low at night with no lights, or it can pick up any suspicious boat up to 30 miles away, something the Navy describes as a potential game changer in helping detect drug smugglers. The best part about the equipment, it only takes a few guys to operate and it’s a lot cheaper than other alternatives.
Colombia Halts Narcotrafficking with Cutting-edge Technology
Service members of the Colombian Navy’s Pacific Naval Force seized 3 tons of cocaine hydrochloride, May-June 2018. The drugs belonged to criminal organizations aiming to transport the drug to Central America.
In addition, authorities detected and intercepted a speedboat with dissidents of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC, in Spanish). The vessel traveled at high speed and carried 932 kg of cocaine hydrochloride in an attempt to move it from the Micay River area in Cauca to Central America.
The Navy used cutting-edge radars and detection technology to identify smuggling activities and locate targets from a great distance. “[Interventions] require complete information at the right time. The latest technology can provide information about the location of vessels to deploy maritime and air units,” Col. Solano said. “Naval intelligence, with all its technical resources, is fundamental to operational development, as well as our personnel’s training and experience in hostile environments, moving from a riverine to a maritime environment and vice versa.”
“Technology is necessary in the fight against narcotrafficking, because they provide a broader view, coverage, and monitoring of coastal areas, day and night,” Lt. Cmdr. Ocaña said. “The chances of intercepting a boat in the high seas, speedboat to speedboat, are about 20 percent. If we add an operational pair, say ship plus speedboat, the chances are 45 percent. When we integrate an air asset, a vessel, and a speedboat, the chances of capturing the drug vessel rise to 85 percent. Each time we add a resource and advanced technology, we curb narcotrafficking’s success rate and increase ours.”
“The strength of institutional interoperability made joint and interagency operations more efficient, and information run more smoothly for planning,” said Col. Solano. “It’s a great advantage to have all institutions collaborate with us, which simplifies our work.”
Narcotrafficking remains the main threat to the country and the region. “We saw a change in trends with criminals. In the past, they [only] trafficked cocaine hydrochloride. Now, base paste is also transferred to be refined in other countries. It’s a change,” Lt. Cmdr. Ocaña said. “With that said, narcotrafficking’s main methods to move drugs is via speedboats.”
“Not even the most powerful Navy in the world, the U.S. Navy, controls the sea 100 percent,” Lt. Cmdr. Ocaña said. “It’s important that countries be in tune with technology to develop their naval power to counter narcotrafficking,” Col. Solano concluded.