Cocaine route heats up
• Authorities tracking Jamaica’s role as conduit for illicit South American drugs • Third multi-billion dollar bust in less than three months
Colombian drug lords appear to have ramped up their use of Jamaica’s territorial waters as they seek to get record levels of cocaine to lucrative international markets, local law enforcement operatives have theorised. The suggestion comes as...
Colombian drug lords appear to have ramped up their use of Jamaica’s territorial waters as they seek to get record levels of cocaine to lucrative international markets, local law enforcement operatives have theorised.
The suggestion comes as Jamaican authorities investigate a third multibillion-dollar drug bust – and possibly the largest – in less than three months.
An estimated 1,500 kilograms of cocaine worth approximately US$80 million or more than J$12 billion was seized during a predawn operation yesterday involving the police, the army and Jamaica Customs Agency.
The drug was reportedly found in a shipping container at Kingston Freeport Terminal Limited, located in the Jamaican capital, officials confirmed.
“There was no attempt to disguise it, really,” said a police source.
Up to press time, no arrest had been made in connection with the seizure.
The shipment originated in Colombia and Jamaica was not the intended destination, officials also disclosed, without indicating where it was headed.
The South American country saw historic levels of cocaine production last year, the United Nations Office on Drug Crime (UNODC) reported last October.
According to the latest UNODC annual report, possible cocaine output in Colombia rose by 14 per cent to 1,400 metric tons, while the area sown with coca jumped 43 per cent to 204,000 hectares, the highest in two decades.
Coca is the base ingredient for cocaine.
The rise in cocaine production in the South American country came despite the eradication of some 440,000 hectares of coca in recent years, Colombia’s Justice Minister Nestor Osuna said at the time the UNODC report was released.
‘JUST A TRANSSHIPMENT POINT’
Fitz Bailey, Jamaica’s deputy police commissioner, believes this increase coupled with greater vigilance by international law enforcement agencies across their maritime space is what is fuelling the recent spate of billion-dollar cocaine busts in Jamaica.
“Because of the efforts of international law enforcement partners to restrict the movement by other means like go-fast boats, they are now seeking alternative ways to transport their drugs,” Bailey told The Sunday Gleaner yesterday.
“We don’t have the market for that amount of cocaine. We are just a transshipment point.”
Nearly 2,000 pounds of cocaine worth approximately J$1.1 billion was seized on December 26 last year after the Jamaica Defence Force intercepted a go-fast boat in Jamaican waters off the coast of St Thomas.
The vessel was traveling from Colombia with three Jamaican men on board, officials disclosed at the time. They remain in police custody.
Three months before that, approximately 1,100 pounds of cocaine with an estimated street value of US$25 million or J$3.7 billion was found in 10 large travel bags at the Ian Fleming International Airport in St Mary.
The find triggered a high-level police investigation and a security audit by the Airports Authority of Jamaica (AAJ), the state agency that operates the facility, but to date there has been no arrest.
Bailey, who heads the Criminal Investigations Branch of the police force, said the investigations “are not dormant and remain very active”.
NO SIGN OF COLLUSION
A review of the security “procedures” at the Ian Fleming Airport has concluded that there was no lapse, Audley Deidrick, chief executive officer of the AAJ, told The Sunday Gleaner yesterday.
There is no sign of collusion by employees, he said.
Deidrick disclosed that the AAJ has provided the police with “very basic” information mainly about the arrival and departure of the aircraft on which the cocaine was found.
He, however, declined to divulge any information about the aircraft or those on board, pointing to the high-level police investigation and noting that it is standard procedure for travellers’ information to be treated as classified.
“Because the matter is being treated at a very high level, it is not my place to even try to mention that type of information,” he said.
“I don’t want to make comments about what has been done, how far that investigation has reached or any outcome with the process so far.”
Ian Fleming is the smallest of Jamaica’s three international airports and, according to Deidrick, the security arrangements there are “in line with what we actually set out to establish and in line with what we do for aviation security purposes.”
Still, he said the AAJ plans to engage an external aviation specialist to conduct a more thorough review.
Bailey said the latest drug bust demonstrates significant improvement in the intelligence-gathering capacity of the Jamaican security forces as well as better cooperation and collaboration with international counterparts.