10 Transnational Crime and Global Security
maritime drug trafficking is used around the globe as a means of reaching
the major drug markets and typically involves the movement of cocaine,
heroin, and marijuana. The most common platforms for maritime drug
smuggling are fishing vessels, commercial cargo ships, and small personal
watercrafts, also known as “go-fasts” or “go-fast boats.”
The exploitation of the fishing industry by drug traffickers is a long-
standing concern to national and international authorities (United
Nations, 2011). Persons connected with the organized drug trade are able
to leverage the immense size of the fishing industry to conceal their activi-
ties from law enforcement by maintaining the appearance of legitimate
business. Further, fishing vessels have the advantage of operating in a geo-
graphically enormous area with relatively low probability of interaction
with law enforcement (and thus interdiction). As an example, the Carib-
bean Sea, a well-known vector of maritime drug trafficking, is roughly
the same size as the continental United States (Lyman, 2011). Drug traf-
fickers in fishing vessels have a marked advantage relative to counter-
narcotic operations. Interdiction in the maritime channels relies on a flag
state with jurisdiction encountering a fishing vessel, correctly distinguish-
ing between illicit activity and legitimate industry, boarding the vessel
and locating drugs on that vessel.
Fishing vessels are known to be used by drug trafficking organiza-
tions moving cocaine and heroin from South American countries (chiefly
Colombia) toward the U.S. market. Such vessels may move through
the eastern Pacific, Atlantic, or western Caribbean routes. According to
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimates, nearly
two-thirds of the cocaine leaving Colombia moves through the eastern
Pacific vector. These vessels may proceed directly to the United States,
or traffickers may transship the cargo through any number of countries
between the source and destination. As the Colombian trafficking organi-
zations have shifted toward a model that relies on the use of Mexican drug
trafficking organizations to move drugs into the United States (Lyman,
2011), larger proportions of fishing vessels leaving Colombia are headed
for Mexico. Some estimates suggest this figure may be as high as 90 per-
cent (United Nations, 2011). Colombian traffickers also rely on the use of
fishing vessels for the movement of drugs, primarily cocaine, from South
America to West Africa, en route to various markets in Europe. Large fish-
ing vessels are used as “motherships,” which distribute their cargo off-
shore to smaller fishing vessels which, in turn, head for commercial ports
in either West Africa or Europe.
Fishing vessels are also a major maritime trafficking platform for drugs
leaving Mexico, particularly large bales of marijuana. Mexican trafficking
groups use fishing vessels in a variety of ways, including as transport ves-
sels to move drugs to and from “motherships,” movement of illicit sub-
stances into commercial ports, and as mobile provision stations for go-fast
boats. When moving shorter distances, such as from the Mexican state of
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