IT’S no secret that drug trafficking has continued unabated throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
During 2020, smugglers had to get savvy to deliver hashish, cocaine and pills across Spain, including posing as food delivery drivers.
And with police on the Costa del Sol sent to work on enforcing coronavirus restrictions, drug traffickers became ever more brazen, performing drug drop offs and refuelling missions in broad daylight.
British tourists were shocked in July last year when smugglers dropped off bales of hashish on a beach close to the four-star Hotel Sol Marbella Estepona-Atalaya Park.
A van was waiting in a residential street at the back of the beach to speed off with the haul before police arrived.
In June, just after the lockdown had ended, expats told of how their local beach had become a site for drugs landings, with traffickers attempting to intimidate them into silence.
But despite millions of euros spent fighting the war on drugs in Spain, 2021 has so far been business as usual.
On Saturday, residents in Estepona filmed a now-typical scene as a RHIB boat carrying drugs was dramatically chased by a police vessel and helicopter just off the shore.
The high-speed chase was recorded by a resident overlooking the Playa del Cristo beach.
“It was pretty intense, shots fired and all,” one witness told the Olive Press.
“But it’s nothing out of the ordinary anymore, everyone who lives here is under no illusion of what goes on, not just here but along the whole coast.”
Another high speed chase in the waters of Estepona on Sunday resulted in a death.
A crew member onboard a so-called narco boat died after colliding with a Customs Surveillance Service vessel.
The deceased, known only as Dieguito or the initials J.D.G.S, was from La Linea de la Concepcion, the town bordered with Gibraltar which has long been a hotbed for drug mafias.
Dieguito was in the boat with three other men, one from La Linea and two others from Galicia, all of whom were arrested.
Galicia is also a major entry point for drugs, mostly cocaine from South America.
The northern Spanish region made international headlines in 2019 when more than €100 million worth of the drug were found in a submarine which had travelled from Brazil.
Business as usual
Despite the pandemic and lockdowns of 2020, the Special Security Plan created to wage war on drugs in the Campo de Gibraltar had to be extended to Malaga, Huelva and Sevilla.
New figures reveal that police in the Campo de Gibraltar seized just under €2 million in 2020, along with 121 tonnes of hashish, six tonnes of cocaine and more than 600 vehicles and boats.
Meanwhile there were 899 arrests in the campo and 1,162 operations against drug traffickers.
Authorities say the security plan, launched in August 2018, continues to be successful as smugglers are hunted by land, air and sea.
But figures suggest millions of euros worth of drugs are regularly making their way into southern Spain, with mafias extending their tentacles to other provinces in Andalucia where there is less police pressure.
The 899 arrests in the campo in 2020 and the more than 1,000 police operations are similar figures to those seen in 2019, suggesting traffickers have been unperturbed by the increase in police pressure.
Since the plan was launched almost three years ago, investigators have seized 353.8 tonnes of drugs, mostly hashish (13.7 tonnes of cocaine).
New battle plans
The Operational Coordination Table of the Campo de Gibraltar (MECO) met last week to take stock of results so far and to make a list of priorities going forward.
Among its plans for 2021 are a crackdown on marijuana farms, which have seen a marked increase over the past year.
Authorities will also reinforce their criminal intelligence gathering networks and have vowed to maintain a high pressure on the mafias throughout 2021.
Got a story about this subject? Email email@example.com