Tuesday, October 19

The ghost drug ships and the meth business that does not stop the pandemic


The Marshall Islands find a boat with drug bales worth more than 65 million euros, the largest cache found in this part of Micronesia, but not the first

Drug packages found in the Marshall Islands.
Drug packages found in the Marshall Islands.

A boat just over 15 feet long appeared adrift last week in a remote part of the Pacific, off the coast of Ailuk in the Marshall Islands, halfway between the Philippines and Hawaii. Four residents of Ailuk, a small atoll where 400 people live, tried to lift the abandoned boat and carry it to the beach.

It was not easy and they needed the help of a boat to tow it. It was heavier than normal for a small fiberglass boat. They were surprised when they tried to find out why it was so heavy: in a hidden compartment there were 649 kilos of cocaine. Vein sealed and packaged in cardboard boxes. The initials “KW” were stamped on all of them in red.

The total value of the white powder button exceeded 65 million euros, according to the Marshall Islands authorities, who assured that the ship could have left South or Central America and been adrift for one or two years. No trace of the person who will be on board or the original reception place of the drug. What is certain is that It is the largest cache found in this part of Micronesia, but not the first. A few months ago, on another small island called Nauru, a fishing boat appeared adrift. There was no one at the controls. What was in the cabin were three boxes of 15,000 methamphetamine tablets.

Apart from the anecdote of those baptized by the press as the “ghost drug ships”, the islands of the Pacific, due to their geographical location, they are an intermediate enclave of an international drug trafficking route. Several lost caches have reached the shores of the atolls. Before, it was usually cocaine. But the novelty in recent years has been that, when the police opened the lost drug packages, they also found the most sought-after chemical of the moment by drug traffickers and consumers: methamphetamine.

In the year of the coronavirus, it can be said that, at least in the Asia-Pacific region, drug trafficking has moved even more fluidly than before the pandemic. Especially if we talk about methamphetamine. “Production of the most popular drug in the region continues to hit record levels as prices drop to new lows in East and Southeast Asia, as well as Australia and New Zealand,” said the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in a report that compiled data from 2019 to the first quarter of 2020.

“It is difficult to imagine that organized crime has managed to expand the drug market again, but it has,” said Jeremy Douglas, UNODC representative for Southeast Asia. “While the world has focused its attention on the Covid-19 pandemic, Everything indicates that the production and trafficking of synthetic drugs and chemical substances continue at record levels in the region. “

This year, with the arrival of the coronavirus, Asian nations were closing their borders and increasing security to prevent the pandemic. The streets of some countries were emptied by strict confinements. Many thought that, collaterally, the viral crisis would also hit the drug lords since, if there is no movement, there is no business. A calculation that has turned out to be wrong because, as Douglas pointed out, just the opposite has happened.

Traffickers have taken advantage of governments’ distraction from the coronavirus to keep moving the drug. Although due to mobility limits in some countries, street-level sales have lost strength compared to the online purchase of these substances, as explained by the Deputy Secretary-General of the Narcotics Control Commission of Thailand, Paisith Sungkahapong. “We have seen an increase in the drug trade on the internet through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. We have also discovered that many drugs are hidden and transported through postal services,” said Paisith.

The epicenter from which drugs come out in this region is still an old acquaintance whose name was coined years ago by the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA): the Golden Triangle. It is the border area where they are found. Thailand, Laos and Burma. Deep in their jungle, local militias long ago stopped financing their guerrillas by selling heroin. Synthetic drugs are easier to make and do not depend on space or climate. Furthermore, chemical precursors are readily available in China.

If we focus only on methamphetamine, according to UNODC data, last year the Asia-Pacific region moved an amount estimated to be worth $ 61 billion. Most of the methamphetamine distributed comes from Shan State, Burma. In this border area with China, there has been an ethnic conflict for seven decades between the Wa nationalists and the Burmese paramilitaries. Both sides, in order to enrich themselves, have given security and impunity to drug manufacturers by turning Shan into the new global center for the production of methamphetamine.

Just days ago, Malaysia made headlines when the country’s coast guard made its largest methamphetamine seizure. More than two million tons of the drug that was packaged as Burmese tea was seized. Before that, in November, the Hong Kong authorities also announced a record seizure of more than half a ton of methamphetamine discovered in a shipment of bags of cement traveling from Vietnam to Australia.

He boom This drug has skyrocketed so much that even in Afghanistan, the largest producer of heroin in the world, drug traffickers are turning to the synthetic drug most in demand. Australian authorities, for example, have noted an increase in seizures of methamphetamine arriving from Afghanistan. A month ago they found it dissolved in boxes of mineral water bottles from Central Asia.

Cargo ships containing methamphetamine from Afghanistan have also been found in the Arabian Sea. Experts fear that, just as it has been the case with heroin for more than two decades, the synthetic drug produced in that country will also reach Europe. The old continent has not been spared this year either from the increase in drug trafficking despite restrictions due to the pandemic. Specifically, from cocaine. According to Interpol alert in October: cocaine traffic from South America to Europe had reached “record amounts” during the first half of 2020. In the port of Rotterdam, for example, twice as much cocaine was seized as in the same period. from the previous year.

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