The SOS of drug traffickers in the Strait of Gibraltar
  • immigration The toll of the southern boat routes: one death every day during 2021
  • drugs The fight against drug trafficking advances with more judicial investigations into police corruption and money laundering

It is dark night and the waters of the Strait of Gibraltar, off the coast of Algeciras, are a black blanket over which, minutes before, a huge boat with four outboard motors had almost flown. But that was before the combustible it ended due to the lack of foresight of its crew, an unwanted encounter that has forced the route to be altered or because those who had to guarantee the refueling did not appear. The engines are off and on the boat, several men are waiting to be rescued. They stand next to a mound of brown burlap bales, which they are slowly tossing overboard as a Sea Rescue ship draws closer in response to their call for help.

The scene is repeated in front of the Cadiz coasts for years, but this December it has multiplied and a good part of the outings carried out in the last month by the rescue teams of the public company – dependent on the Ministry of Transport – have been motivated by the SOS of the drug traffickers

Among the Maritime Rescue troops stationed in the area, the increase in rescues from traffickers’ boats has not gone unnoticed, most of the time with drugs included. One of them confirms to EL MUNDO how since it began December and up to the end of the year the outings of this type in which he has participated directly have reached six. The usual thing, he adds, is that, at most, they are half, two or three.

The scene that is narrated in the first lines corresponds to one of those rescues, which ended, as almost all end, in the port, to which a rescue boat took the rescued and where Civil Guard agents were waiting for them. But there wasn’t no arrested, with the bundles missing and the alleged drug dealers assuring that they had drifted while “fishing”.

In that case it was the fuel that ran out, but, according to the sources consulted, the reasons why they are left at the mercy of the currents and are forced to ask for help are very varied. There are narcolanchas that suffer breakdowns and that are unable to continue sailing with their heavy load, there are those that present a leak that endangers not only the merchandise reaching its destination, but also those who transport and guard it and there are those who suffer an accident and they get shipwrecked.

“Son a rescue more,” explains a professional who has saved more than one drug trafficker lost in the middle of the Strait, “and that’s how we treat him,” he adds. In fact, he says that not even, despite the overwhelming evidence, do they even know certain that what they transport -and throw away before being rescued- is hashish.

Maritime Salvage does not have no competition in terms of security and, much less, in regard to the fight against the trafficking of narcotic substances. Their teams limit themselves to going where they are required, where the SOS is launched, and to ensure that the crew members of the damaged vessels reach land safe and sound. And that’s it.

So much so that it is impossible to know with certainty how many of the rescues that are carried out in the Strait of Gibraltar -or in any other point of the extensive Spanish coastline- have drug traffickers as protagonists. Simply because the statistics they do not discriminate, because Salvamento Martimo cannot verify when there are drugs (or not) on the boats they assist.

Officially, then, there are no rescues of drug traffickers, although there are, as some workers of the public company assure, always under the condition of anonymity because, they say, whoever speaks otherwise exposes himself to some reprisal.

The CGT Maritime Rescue union section not only confirms the story of these public employees, but also complains that they are not the ones who should go to these rescues. Especially since it represents a risk added for the workers, but also because the Civil Guard could do it, which does have the power to inspect the drug loads that the boats transport from neighboring Morocco, as well as to interrogate and even arrest the crew members if suspicions are confirmed. that they are drug traffickers.

Ismael Furi, union delegate of the CGT in Salvamento Martimo, recalls that the armed institute has been coordinating all emergencies for some time and that before going to a rescue there is already data -provided by aerial means or by other ships that give the warning- that allow us to intuit whether or not they are drug ships. In other words, it is possible to find out if there may be drugs on board and, therefore, send the Civil Guard to the rescue/intervention.

Furi points out that, although it is a situation that occurs throughout the Spanish coast, it is especially concentrated in the Strait of Gibraltar because it is one of the main freeways by which the drug enters the Iberian Peninsula from North Africa.

The other castaways, the immigrants

In any case, the main activity of the boats and helicopters and of the Maritime Rescue personnel continues to be the rescue of immigrants who embark on small boats to try to bridge the distance that separates the Moroccan or Algerian coasts from Spain.

According to the official statistics of the Ministry of the Interior, throughout 2021 almost 17,000 immigrants have arrived in the Iberian Peninsula by and martima, most of them to the Andalusian coasts. This figure represents an increase of 2.6% compared to 2020, when 16,560 immigrant entries were recorded.

These almost 17,000 foreigners arrived at the southern coast of Spain on board, according to official statistics, of 1,476 boats of all kinds, 13.4% more than those detected in 2020.

The southern routes concentrate approximately 42% of all irregular immigration destined for Spain. In the twelve months of last year, Interior has registered 39,835 arrivals of irregular immigrants by sea, practically the same figure as in 2020, and six out of ten of them arrived on the Canary coast.

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