About 80 percent of cocaine entering the United States is transported by sea. Last year, 19,000 kilos of the drug, with a street value of about $2.3 billion on the American market, was intercepted during operations similar to Operation Martillo, according to the Netherlands Government Information Service.
In another big bust two years ago, the crew of the Royal Netherlands Navy frigate Van Speijk, with an embedded U.S. Coast Guard law enforcement detachment, caught an 87-foot, Panamanian-flagged fishing vessel called Two Brothers about 34 miles from Aruba. The crew confiscated 3,262 pounds of cocaine with a wholesale value of $46 million. Five Honduran men were arrested.
“People ask why are we fighting drugs. It’s a healthcare issue,” said Vice Admiral Matthieu J.M. Borsboom, commander of the Royal Netherlands Navy. “But we know it’s serious business. Drugs can really disrupt and corrupt institutions, even a nation like Curaçao.”
And even with all the efforts by so many countries, drug trafficking remains active and lucrative. “It is a cat and mouse game,” said Lt. Cmdr. Hugo Sinke, of the Royal Netherlands Navy who serves as a Liaison Officer with JIATF-South. “Drug traffickers have a lot of resources and money and can adapt very quickly. We have to try to creep into their minds and think: What is their next step? And their next move? And we try to beat them to that next step.
“That’s why we try to build ships like these to try to provide a better answer,” Sinke said.
This month the Holland and its crew traveled 10 days from the Netherlands to Key West for warm-water testing. The port call also was an opportunity for Borsboom to host a four-hour sail, during which the captain and crew demonstrated some of the new capabilities and systems to about 40 high-level military guests from friendly countries, including Chile, Sweden, New Zealand, Brazil, France, Indonesia, Australia and Japan. Representatives from the U.S. Southern Command, JIATF-South and the U.S. Coast Guard also were on board.
“Absolutely, we want to show off our ship,” said Lt. Bart Breitenstein, watch officer on the Holland.
It is the first of four new patrol ships being built to replace frigates that are faster and feature more weaponry and missiles, but are aging and not as efficient for most of the tasks required while patrolling the North Sea and what was once called the Netherlands Antilles in the Caribbean.
“While we always prepare for high conflict, we often did more preparing and not much was put into mission,” Borsboom said.
Since the end of the Cold War, major sea battles have become less likely. “What we saw coming up was more and more maritime tasks in the low intention dimension: drug trafficking, counter piracy, fighting illegal trafficking of humans and weapons,” Borsboom said.
To keep costs down, the Holland was designed specifically for these type of missions, as well as for general protection duties of the island nations and humanitarian missions for such events as hurricanes and earthquakes.
The Holland features a helicopter and two go-fast interceptor boats that can travel up to 45 knots with boarding teams of eight each. One of the boats can be deployed in a minute or two from a stern slipway. Both boats put on a show for the dignitaries, roaring through the rough seas.
The Holland’s new surveillance technology can detect an object the size of a soccer ball about 150 nautical miles away in rough seas, said Jan van Hogerwou, Damen Shipyards’ sales manager for the Americas. The technology also is able to track semi-submersible drug submarines now being used by drug cartels.
While the ship can go only a maximum speed of 22 knots, it was painted a light gray to blend in with the Caribbean sky. It also was designed to float at speeds of 0 to 5 knots. “It can just drift in the ocean and whenever they see something on the radar, they can launch one of the fast boats that can go 45 knots,” van Hogerwou said. “They are there within minutes to grab the bad guys, trying to keep the world clean.”